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Shadows of the Shepherds

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Prologue) The Verge of History

The continent is no stranger to dangers. Two thousand years ago, you had the story of the Hero-King, both the War of Shadows and the War of Heroes. One thousand years ago, you had the First Exalt, and his sealing of the Fell Dragon, Grima. Both times, two objects featured heavily: the Falchion and the Fire Emblem. These are the sacred treasures of the Halidom of Ylisse.

That isn't to say that Ylisse is all happiness and sunshine, though it certainly tries to live up to that reputations in modern times. Many years ago, Ylisse launched a brutal on Plegia, its neighbor, seeking to 'purge the world' of the Grimleal, worshipers of Grima. As if the constant war would make them change their ways. When you declare and persecute a people for something they barely have any choice in, all you do is force them to break and become that evil. Plegia is now a country of psychopaths and monsters, because all the good-hearted people were killed, twisted, or escaped to avoid the war.

This isn't helped, of course, by the perceived lack of care from the Ylisseans following their sudden declaration that the war was over. Exalt Emmeryn, who inherited at age nine, had focused her efforts on repairing her own home, and sadly neglected foreign relations until it was far too late. The Mad-King Gangrel, once a thief who lived in the slums, refuses to believe Ylisse had actually changed, and maintained its 'Holier than Thou' mentality, a belief shared by most of the populace, especially those who turned to the Grimleal for sanctuary, since the Churches of Naga threw them out for simply being Plegian.

None of this matters to me, though, except as a reason for why I'm even alive. My very existence threatens the world, and many times, I thought to take my own life to try and save it. I only don't because then I'd condemn another child to my fate. I couldn't bear that, so I simply run, alongside my twin brother, with the two of us trying desperately to never be caught by the Grimleal. Always fearing… that we'd slip up, and doom the world because of it.

I told him to wait in the field while I went hunting. I had to check the backtrail, make sure we weren't being followed. I knew I had told him that. Yet, what was the first thing he did? He left, likely to go assist the nearby burning town because he had a fatal case of chronic hero syndrome.

I growled under my breath as I ran towards the town, narrowing my eyes as the smoke stung my eyes and the smell of blood and death bombarded me. I was used to both, so I jumped over corpses and twisted to avoid puddles. People screeched around me, sobbing over the dead, panicking over the sudden assault. But it was not a brutal one. This was instigated by some weaker bandits, by my eye, those with far more balls than brains. Most of the damage was showy, meant to terrify, but unable to really do damage. They might lose their homes, but they'd keep their lives. It was a simple trade, really, though I doubted they'd agree until the fear had removed its claws from their hearts.

A particularly loud shriek caught my ear, and I whirled towards it, wondering what the hell was going on. I ended up lunging when I realized part of a building had collapsed, and the burning beams were falling straight onto a young girl with pigtails and an even younger child. I gathered them both in my arms and grunted as the beam hit my back. Some splintered and ash fell by my face, but I was otherwise unharmed, so I paid it little mind,

"Oh my gosh, are you okay?!" The pigtailed girl, however, made much more of a fuss. "Ah, here, let me heal you!" she insisted, already bringing up her staff. I tried, tried, to figure out why she was wearing buttons, but since the rest of her outfit was subtly 'rich', I figured it was just a weird noblewoman thing. The strange hoop skirt more or less confirmed it. Only a noble would wear something so ridiculous. "And a one and a two…"

"You should be worried more about your own back," I scolded, standing before she could complete the healing spell. I drew my sword when I saw some bandits charging for us. "You continue doing what you were doing, Buttons."

"Um… yes!" She blinked slowly, like she had no idea what was going on. I wondered if she was just a local noble girl who ran to help the 'poor little people' without any idea of how to make sure she didn't become a victim. "A-ah! Above!"

"Oh, aren't they clever?" I twisted and brought my sword up, using it to deflect the axe and send it and its wielder to the side to off-balance him. As he stumbled to a landed, I struck twice, doing my best to hit the same spot twice: his neck. It took a third to fully decapitate him, and I spun to kick the head at some of the approaching attackers. It hit one, a mage, in the face and made him shriek, losing control of his spell and killing some of his own people.

"Um… to your-!"

"Buttons, you need to focus on your own job, not give commentary." I jumped and flipped over one of the approaching bandits, letting him strike down his own comrade before running him through. "Okay?" I turned to face her and waited until she nodded slowly. "Now, please tell me you're not out here alone."

"Oh, no, my brother is… somewhere around here." She shrugged and trotted over to my side. The child she had been with was safely escorted away by another villager. "So is Frederick and some weird guy wearing a jacket like yours."

"I see." I barely checked the urge to sigh. Robin really was here then. I swore his tendency to help people was going to get me killed one of these days. "Well, let's get you to them."

"Okay." She moved a little closer, frowning slightly. "Are you sure you don't need a healing?"

"Yes, I'm sure."

"Wow!" Her eyes sparkled. "You're super cool and skilled. You dealt with the bandits so easily!"

"These bandits are half-trained, at best, meaning they're easy to see through." It would've been better if they were untrained, since that would make them absolutely unpredictable. Half-trained just meant they had enough skill to be predictable and not enough skill to properly defend themselves. "I've also got some experience fighting bandits."

"Ooooohhhhh…" She stuck to my side like a very inconvenient burr as we walked through the burning town. I noticed other bandit corpses floating in the water, some of which were definitely killed by a thunder tome. Robin had been through here. "I love your hair, by the way. It's a super pretty color." It was red, a color not uncommon among Plegians. "Oh, there they are!" Buttons waved suddenly as we came upon three men cutting down a bandit whose slightly better weapon, clothing, and jewelry hinted he'd been the leader. "Everyone okay?"

"Lissa, there you are," one of them called. I automatically dubbed him 'Blue', since that was the most predominant color in his look, from his hair to his clothes. "We're fine. What about you?"

"I'm fine, Chrom," Buttons answered. She gestured dramatically to me. "Since Frederick was busy protecting your butt, I found another knight in shining armor!" She looked so gleeful that I decided to bite back my retort; I was purposely wearing light leather armor that didn't shine, even forgoing the shielded rerebrace many mercenaries wore, opting for long armored gloves instead. "She's awesome!"

"It seems both Frederick and I owe you, then, miss." Blue smiled warmly. "I'm sure protecting my delicate sister was a handful."

"I am not delicate!" She sulked and stomped her foot. "Hmph! Stupid Chrom!"

"I suppose we do need to thank her, my lord, but we do have another problem," the older of the trio said. The armor was the standard Great Knight armor of Ylisse, a slightly slimmer and less bulk version favored by other countries, and was very shiny, so I just went with 'Shiny' for him. "The one from before."

"Oh, come on, Frederick, isn't he fine?" Buttons laughed. She turned to the third person, and I relaxed slightly when I realized it was Robin. It couldn't be anyone else, with that shade of white hair, and the coat. "Whatever. Holy wow! Swords, magic, and tactics! Is there anything you can't do?"

"Apparently remember an explanation that satisfies your companion," Robin laughed. I frowned slightly when I heard it. He'd never been one to just laugh or joke, especially around strangers. Everything had been too hard on him, even worse than me. It was a full time job to keep him from brooding. "I have failed to do that."

"Oh, Fred's always like that. Just ignore him."

"What do you mean 'remember'?" I finally asked. All eyes turned to me. "Robin, what the hell are you going on about?"

"I'm… huh?" Robin replied. He blinked slowly, tilting his head curiously. I felt myself grown ill as he looked more and more confused. "Is… Robin my name?"

"Yes, it has been for the past eighteen and some months." I glared as I noticed the pity Blue boy and Buttons were giving me. "Robin-"

"I'm sorry." He shook his head. "I don't… remember. Anything, really."

The words hit me like ice water. "What do you mean…?" I shook my head. "Gods, I haven't even been gone a damn hour…" Had one of them caught him during that time? Had they tried to break him again? I hadn't seen bodies, but… "You seriously…?"

"I'm sorry." He shook his head again. "I was in the field. They found me." He gestured to the other three. Shiny's eyes were narrowed in suspicion; Blue and Buttons still looked at me with pity. I wanted to punch them all. "I'm-"

"Stop apologizing." Apologies were nothing more than empty words said to soothe one's own conscience. Apologies were nothing more than a way to prove supposed moral superiority. They were nothing. "Just… stop." If he'd forgotten even his name, then did he forget our promise too? That was likely. What would I do, when it came to fulfill it, then? I had no idea.

"But…" He looked so lost for a second before his eyes lit up. "Um... "


"Is your name 'Kestrel'?" He smiled so sweetly, far too sweetly in my eyes. The last time he'd smiled sweetly, we'd been six and Mom had still been alive. "I remembered that name, you see. I knew it wasn't mine, but I couldn't…" He didn't finish the statement, his smile faltering as he slowly realized that completing it might not be the best of ideas.

"Your habit of putting your foot in your mouth hasn't changed." I made myself smile at him, even though I just wanted to break down and cry. But crying was a waste of water, and there were a lot of 'wants' I'd given up over the past fifteen years. "But yes, I'm Kestrel. I'm your twin sister."

And here I'd thought the gods couldn't kick us in the teeth more.

The villagers insisted on us having some tea. I thought they wanted us to be nearby just in case more bandits came, but they made a very nice apple cider, and they were giving it to us for free, so I didn't care. Free was nice.

"I don't suppose you'd be willing to answer a few questions." However, sitting down to drink left me open for Shiny's interrogation, but I didn't care. No matter how much he glared, he wasn't scary. Knights like him were never scary; they cared too much about honor and chivalry. "There are many unanswered questions," he continued, smiling politely. I rolled my eyes and continued sipping my drink. "And you seem to be the only one with any sort of answers."

"Frederick, is this really necessary?" Blue sighed. He sat loosely, perfectly relaxed, and he smiled often to the villagers as they passed by. They'd been asking questions of him for the past few hours, but he answered their questions as much as he could, easily admitting when he didn't know anything. "The poor girl just got a huge shock."

"I think she is the type to dislike pity, my lord." Shiny continued smiling, but he did sigh when Button started sulking. "It is only a few. I promise."


"Let him ask," I interrupted, annoyed. I didn't need a protector. I never had, and I doubted I ever would. "It'll be good for Robin anyway."

"Only if you do not mind," Robin instantly replied. He had a stupid grin on his face at the apple cider, likely because he didn't remember the taste. "I don't want you to force yourself, sister."

"It's fine." Nothing could be more painful than the clunky way he said the word 'sister', after all. "So?"

"I suppose I wish to start with the obvious," Shiny began. His smile fell for a more serious, stoic look, and I noted with amusement that he sat with absolute proper posture, unlike his lord and lady. Then again, I tried to figure out how Buttons was able to sit with the metal cage around her legs. "Why was he in the middle of a field?"

"Robin was supposed to be making a lunch camp while I hunted," I answered. It was technically true. I just… hadn't exactly been hunting game. We'd planned on just munching on some two-day-old bread we had in our packs. "Clearly, he failed. Miserably."

"I see." He paused, eyes narrowed slightly. "What were you all doing around here?"

"Walking. Traveling. You typically will wander through a few stray meadows when you walk."

"Where were you heading, then?"



"Yes." I sipped my drink again, easily ignoring Shiny's frown. Blue and Buttons both seemed distinctly amused, but I didn't care about that either.

However, Robin tapped my arm to catch my attention, and leaned down slightly to look right at me. "What do you mean by 'nowhere'?" he asked. He looked completely confused. "Were we really not going anywhere?"

"No, we weren't," I answered. I really didn't want to say more, but I supposed he did have a right to know. "We're travelers, and we don't have a home."

"Really?" His eyes were wide. "Why?"

"Well…" My mouth dried as I tried to think of how to explain. I couldn't mention the Grimleal or Grima. The Ylisseans would skewer us instantly if they knew. But I also didn't want to lie to Robin. "Our father… was cruel. So, when we were little, our mom took us and ran. She used the Plegian-Ylissean war as a cover, pretending to be a refugee." I tried not to roll my eyes when Blue, Buttons, and Shiny all winced. Ylisseans were all the same. Mention the war, and they hide. "But he hunted for us, so we didn't stay in one place for long. We kept traveling out of habit, and a lack of funds."

"And where is our mother?"

"She died from illness…" I trailed off as I tried to remember how long it had been. "Damn, I guess it's been around ten years now."

"Oh." His expression blanked. "Wait, how old are we?"

"Eighteen as of a few months ago."

"And you said ten years."


"We've been traveling, on our own, without any supervision or anything… for ten years?"

"It's not that unusual, given the war." I went back to drinking my cider as Robin tried to process the whole 'we had been on our own since we were eight' thing. "Any other questions, or can we leave it there for the day?"

"Yes, of course," Blue instantly reassured, cutting off Shiny. He even gave Shiny a look to emphasize the point. "Though, I do want to clarify. You have no home?"

"No, we don't," I sighed. I didn't see why that was so hard to understand, and genuinely wondered if he'd been dropped on his head as a baby. "Why?"

"I was wondering if you would like to come with us, actually." Blue gave Shiny another look as he made to protest, but Buttons squeaked and bounced in her seat, clearly delighted by the idea. "I lead a group known as the Shepherds, a militia made up of volunteers who help the populace deal with bandits, since Ylisse's military is very small."

"That's one way to put it. Ylisse's only advantage in military combat is the pegasus knights, but even that is combated by the wyvern knights of Plegia."

"And we're in the middle of an awkward staring match in the air at the moment, so they really can't mobilize to deal with bandits. Hence, my friends, who went along with my crazy idea because they're wonderful people." He smiled slightly, an unconscious smile. He loved his friends dearly. "We take willing volunteers, and I never force anyone to fight a battle they do not wish. It's a very informal thing, really."

"So, you just offer recruitment to any random stranger?"

"Well, no, they have to be someone that I have seen to have combat ability, or a willingness to learn how to fight, and they have to be someone I think can be trusted." He shrugged. "You fought to save Ylissean lives. My heart says that is enough."

"And your mind, my lord?" Shiny protested. "Will you not heed its counsel?"

"My mind reminds me that you were just fretting the other day about how we didn't have a devoted tactician," Blue instantly retorted. He smirked as Shiny grimaced. "We have bandits and… antagonistic neighbors looking to bloody our soil. Someone with Robin's talents could greatly help us." He shrugged, smirk falling. "Besides, I believe his story, strange as it sounds. Something about him makes me think he's a lousy liar."

"He is," I groaned. That was why whenever we had to lie, I was the one who did it. Now, when we had to charm someone, he took over. He was the charismatic type. "Assuming he'll still do it, the most common one you'll hear is 'I am fine'. Never believe it."

"I'm right, then." He smiled again. "And you, miss, are clearly a skilled swordfighter, and you protected my sister. I can think of no better reason to trust you."


"That sounds wonderful, actually," Robin instantly replied, eyes sparkling. Blue's smile warmed, clearly pleased by Robin's enthusiasm. "I'll gladly join, Chrom." He twisted to look at me. "What about you, though? I'll… understand if you'd rather not. I imagine it's rather distressing to deal with an amnesiac sibling." He smiled kindly. "But, if you can bear it, I'd love to learn about you again, and… well…"

"...Gods, you're an idiot," I sighed, leaning back in my chair. I drained the last of my cider and set my mug on the table. "Of course I'm going with you. You forgot to pick up sense in the womb, and you're liable to starve or kill yourself with food poisoning."

"Surely I wasn't that bad…"

"We once defeated bandits by feeding them your horrible cooking."

"See? You both have bandit killing experience already," Blue laughed. His smile was almost like a cat that caught the bird, and a touch of relief. I wondered if he offered more out of pity than anything, and the idea just made me feel sour. "Ah, my pardon, did you need something, sir?"

"No, no!" A village man approached, smiling warmly at us. "We were just wondering if you all would be staying the night," he explained. "We don't have much, but we'll gladly throw you a feast, if you would like."

"Thank you, but no," Shiny refused, smiling warmly to soften the refusal. It warmed as the man nodded, but I was more surprised the man didn't insist. "We really must be off."

"Seriously!?" Buttons yelped, jumping to her feet. Her eyes were wide and she pointed to the nearby window. "It's nearly dark! Where are we going to sleep!?"

"We'll camp, of course. It shouldn't be too much for you, yes? You do like reminding us that you're not very delicate."

"You…" She sulked, puffing out her cheeks like a chipmunk's. "Frederick, sometimes, I hate you."

"A word of warning, you two," Blue suddenly whispered. It was a 'fake whisper', though, clearly meant to be heard by everyone near. "Frederick only smiles when he's about to bring down the axe. Like now."

"My lord, you are aware I can hear you, yes?" Shiny deadpanned. He looked fondly exasperated, and the village man walked off, likely to let the rest of the place know our plans. "I haven't suddenly disappeared, you know."

"Of course. I wouldn't have said it otherwise." Blue stood up slowly and stretched, rolling his shoulders. "Well, let's check on the town one more time, and then head out, all right?"

The others agreed, some more reluctantly than others, and we took our used mugs to the owner of the place to wash. When we did, my eyes fell on Blue's shoulder, and I froze when I saw the mark on it. It was the Mark of Naga, the Royal Birthmark of the Halidom, proof of the contract the First Exalt made with Naga all those centuries ago.

My eyes then fell on the brand on Robin's hand, and I barely checked the urge to touch the back of my shoulder, where my own brand was. The Brand of the Fell Dragon, proof that we were descended from Grima's first Vessel and Champion. Proof that the both of us were 'suitable' vessels for Grima.

But my brother had one more mark, one right over his heart. It was proof that he had inherited the Heart of Grima. That made him a 'perfect' vessel, and our father had done his best to destroy what semblance of a spirit he had, just so that the Awakening could be performed quickly and quietly.

It didn't work, and now, I watched Robin happily chatting with the Heir of Naga, wielder of the Falchion, and wondered just what the gods were plotting. Whatever it was, it wouldn't be good.

Humans always suffered when the gods decided to play their games.

Info on Kestrel:

Class - Mercenary; Reclass - Dark Mage, Myrmidon

Focuses on the way of the blade, despite early training as a dark magic user, for ease of use and to help hide. Because she's been alone for so long, she does not find it easy to trust people.

Very willful and able of enduring a great deal of damage despite lacking in armor. A very balanced fighter ultimately, capable of adapting to just about any situation.

Tends to call people by nicknames, referring only to her twin brother, Robin, by his actual first name.

Chapter Text

Chapter 1) Unwelcome Change

So, things are… strange. My twin brother, Robin, has lost all his memories, barely remembering my name and not remember his own at all. He retains most of his skills, but has no explanations for how he got them. And, damn me, I don't know what all to tell him. I can't summarize the past fifteen years except as a simple 'rough'. As if that encompasses all the fear and pain we'd gone through.

Now, we head to Ylisstol with Blue, Buttons, and Shiny, to join the Shepherds. Somewhere, I am certain the gods are just cackling.

"So, you are my younger twin," Robin murmured. He grinned, apparently pleased by the idea of being the 'older brother'. "What's your favorite color?"

"It's… blue, I guess," I sighed, picking one at random. I didn't have a favorite anything, really. "Sure, we'll go with that."

"Okay, and your favorite flower?"







"Robin, why are you asking all of this?" I gave him a look. "It doesn't really tell you much about me."

"Maybe, but I simply don't know, so it's a good basis!" Robin sulked slightly, and it was so strange to see. He had never been so childish. "These are things I used to know instinctively!"

"You really don't remember anything…" That concept was hard for me to wrap my head around.

"I remembered two things!" He sounded particularly proud about that. "Your name, and Chrom's."

"So, you remembered my name, you remembered the name of a stranger, and… that's it." I gave him the most exasperated look I could manage. "Seriously?"

"Is Chrom really a stranger?"

"We'd heard his name, yes, and seen him once or twice in the distance, maybe, but for all intents and purposes, yes, he is a stranger."

"But I knew his name." Robin frowned slightly. "And since the only other thing I remembered was your name, that would logically mean that he is as important to me as you are. Which must be a lot, since I forgot everything but your names."

"And I'm telling you that logically, that's bullshit, because we'd never said two words to the guy." I looked ahead, to where Blue, Buttons, and Shiny were walking. They were giving us space to talk, while also leading the way. The sunset painted everything a pinkish-red color, meaning we'd be stopping soon. "That's all."

"Weird." His frown deepened, and I was pleased to see such a familiar expression on his face at last. "So, Kestrel, during the battle, I could see-"

"Insight." I sighed. "You have 'Insight'. It's a magic that's not a magic, basically. You have to be born with the ability, and it's impossible to teach. The magic lets you 'see' things that others cannot see, such as the bonds between people or how skillful someone is. It's saved our lives quite a few times."

"Ah, I see." He nodded a bit before frowning. "What about… the ability to see the future? Do I have that?"

"No, you don't."

"Really?" He frowned a bit more. "I had the strangest dream before waking…" He shook his head. "Well, if I can't see the future, then it was likely just that. Maybe my brain's way of trying to make sense of whatever happened to make me lose my memories."

"Perhaps." I glanced at him worriedly. "Would you like to talk about it?"

"Maybe later." He smiled. "Oh, looks like we're stopping."

That we were, and it was clear why. Buttons was complaining.

"Ech! And all the bugs are out!" Buttons whined, sulking. "Noisy disgusting bugs that crawl around and buzz all over and bite your-!" She started hacking suddenly. "Agh! Won goph in mah mouph!"

"Aw, come on now, Lissa," Blue teased. He smiled, clearly having fun. "Hardship builds character."

"Blech…" Buttons looked like the world was ending. "I think I swallowed it."

"The protein will do you good. Want to help me gather firewood?"

"No way!" She stomped angrily and pouted. "I think I've built quite a bit of character today!" I personally thought she was being a spoilt brat, but I knew better than to say that.

"We should really think about food," Robin pointed out. He smiled gently. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I am starving."

"I guess you would be," I murmured. "We never did have lunch." I was so used to being hungry that I didn't even think about it. "Well, I'll go do some hunting and gathering. I'm used to such things."


"You stay here, because you're hopeless at both." I gave him a look and he sighed. "Well, you were, at least. I somehow doubt the lack of memory would make you know the difference between plants."

"Okay, point."

"I'll go with you," Blue volunteered. He grinned. "I like a bit of good hunting." I thought it would be a miracle if he could actually hunt. "Frederick, clear a camp site, will you?"

"Certainly, my lord," Shiny replied. He gave me a dubious look that all but screamed 'if any harm comes to him, I will kill you'. I debated rolling my eyes, but decided to smile instead. It was worth his squirming. "Happy hunting."

To my surprise, Blue did actually know a bit about hunting. He wasn't the best by any means, but he was good enough that I felt comfortable leaving him to it while I gathered some wild sprouts to eat. He managed to take down a bear, and we cleaned and gutted it before dragging it back to camp. Once there, Shiny had a roaring fire going, and Buttons and Robin had tents set up. So, Blue and I cut up the bear, and I set about cooking it with some herbs I'd foraged. The smell of cooking meat made my stomach growl, reminding me that it had been over a day since I last ate. That little reminder made me a bit grouchy, since I had food in front of me. So, I was very pleased when I finished cooking and could actually sit down to eat.

"Ah, this is the best," Blue sighed, gleefully tucking in. "It's been much too long since I've had bear meat." He smiled at me, eyes dancing with laughter. "My compliments to the chef! It's delicious." Blue's eyes narrowed as he jostled Buttons, who stared at her portion like it had offended her. "Come on. Dig in."

"Pass," Buttons deadpanned. She groaned, sulking. "Gods, couldn't you have killed an animal normal people eat for once? Who eats bear?! You're meddling with the food chain! Right, Robin?" Buttons looked over to Robin for backup, and did a double-take when she saw him scarfing down all his food. "Uh…"

"Come on, Lissa. Meat is meat."

"Since when does meat smell like old boots?! No, wait, I take that back! Old boots smell worse!"

"Every experience makes us stronger, milady," Shiny chided. He smiled slightly at her. "Even those we do not enjoy."

"Really?" Buttons replied, scowling. "And just why have you not eaten your portion yet?"

"I… uh…" Shiny tried to hide his plate behind his back. "I'm not really hungry. Large lunch at all."

"Yeah, right!"

"Bear is a staple for people in this area, Buttons," I finally said, having enough of her attitude. "After all, it is commonly available, and people know how to hunt it. The alternative they have is to starve, since this area is still recovering from the war with Plegia." I shook my head. "You may choose to not eat it, but I assure you, this is something normal people eat, and there are many normal people who would not even have this much."

"I'll take her share if she doesn't want it," Robin cheerfully replied. A good thing, since an awkward silence might've fallen otherwise. Buttons just stared, and it seemed like Blue and Shiny didn't know how to react when someone else scolded their precious princess. "I feel like I haven't eaten for days."

"We haven't, really. We held back in foraging because it's been a lean year for the locals."

"Well, then!" Robin smiled and snagged Shiny's plate. "I'm going to continue eating. This is good. Thanks, Kes."

"Robin, please don't shorten my name."

"Okay." Robin went back to eating, and a silence fell. I felt like growling, but I knew the silence was my fault. That just made me even grouchier, and I tried to take my frustrations out on my meat. It didn't really work, and the meal ended on an awkward note.

Mostly to have an excuse to not talk to anyone, I volunteered to clean up the remains of the meal, and set about washing the plates at a nearby river. Unfortunately, though, footsteps told me someone followed.

"Kestrel?" Even better, the 'someone' was Blue. "Might we talk?" he asked. "About-"

"If you expect me to apologize, I won't," I told him bluntly. He winced slightly. "It's one thing to insult a meal while the one who cooked it is right there, and frankly, I don't give a damn about that, though she should've considered it. I do care about her acting like a spoiled brat, if only because I have to suffer through her whining."

"She's not used to these things."

"Well, she can get used to them or go back to your castle." I turned away, scrubbing at a particularly stubborn spot on a plate. "If that's all you wanted to talk about, you can head back to camp now."

"That's…" He sighed. "May I help with drying?"

"Sure." I handed him all the wet plates, including the one I had just finished scrubbing. "Have fun. I'm going to take a bath."

"Oka… hey, wait!" He called after me, but I waved over my shoulder and walked further down the river, hoping that this time, I could be left alone to deal with my thoughts.

I just felt wrong. I felt like I needed to scratch off all my skin, in the hopes that someone who could deal with all of this would emerge. Perhaps it was cruel to be so harsh, so quickly with her, but really, Buttons was being rude and ignorant. My nerves were raw from the day's events. I was never at my best when I finally had a meal after so long without.

I thought about how, when we were little, Mom would often tell Robin and I to just 'go to sleep' and that things would be better when we woke up. It had been a comforting lie back then, but the comfort had long since bled out of the words. Unless Robin magically regained his memories after a good night's sleep, then there was no way this was going to get better.

I lingered by the river for a while before deciding that I couldn't hide from my problems and situation forever, and made my slow way back to camp. When I got there, though, I realized something strange. Both Blue and Buttons were missing, while Shiny and Robin slept blissfully unaware. Frowning, I decided to go look for them.

However, just as I lost sight of the camp, the earth rocked. I yelped, shifting my feet automatically, and realized something horrible. This was no simple 'rocking'. The ground was pulling itself apart!

I started running, first to avoid being caught in a crevice, and then to try and find Blue and Buttons. Those two were away from the camp, and I doubted I'd be so lucky that they were back at the camp. So, I ran, dodging falling trees and jumping over cracks, hunting for them amidst the chaos.

"Lissa!" Blue's shout caught my ear, as did Buttons's yelp, and I used both to find them at last. However, it soon became apparent just why they'd been yelling. The ground had cracked and splittered, and Buttons was caught on a crumbling section, too far away for Blue to grab her before the ground fully gave way.

I, however, was much closer. "Hey!" I yelled. Buttons turned to me with wide, tearing eyes. "Save the crying! Jump!"

"It's too high!" she retorted. She then screamed as another piece of the ground crumbled. "A-ah…"

"I'll catch you. But it's either jump or fall." I skidded to a stop and held out my arms. "Come on! Before the rest of this goes!"

"I…" She glanced around, closed her eyes just long enough to whimper, and then ran and jumped. The ground collapsed under the force, but I caught her easily, even if I got a little banged up because of her weird hoop skirt. "That was…"

"Not out of the woods yet!" I set her on the ground and snagged her hand. I looked around wildly and saw Blue stumbling through some bushes, the briars ripping holes in his clothes. "Blue! This way looks stable!"

"I'll take lead!" he declared, already moving ahead. Deciding this wasn't the time to argue, I followed, dragging Buttons behind me. She tripped and stumbled, but she righted herself each time, so I just squeezed her hand reassuringly.

At one point, though, fire erupted from the cracks in the ground and fireballs rained down. Blue kept one eye on it all and led us safely away from the forest fires, even as the smoke choked us. I debated picking up Buttons, but decided against it. Unless I could get that stupid hoop skirt off of her, there was no way I could manage it.

"This way!" Blue yelled through the roaring of the shuddering earth and the crackling of the wild fires. He waved to make sure I saw which way he was running, and jumped down to a lower part of the forest. The impact of the landing made my teeth rattle, and Buttons yelped from pain. But it did get us to a section that gave us a lovely view of the fiery hail bombarding the forest, but that was also clearly sheltered from the flames for now. That was enough.

"Ylisse isn't really known for earthquakes, right?" I finally whispered. My voice rasped, and the exertion of everything started to catch up. I wiped the sweat off my face, and noticed my legs were shaky. "I know Ferox is, but even then, that's far from the border."

"We get hit every once in a while, but I've never seen an earthquake do this," Blue replied. He groaned, leaning back slightly to stretch. "Not to sound ungrateful, but what are you doing here?"

"I returned to camp and saw you two were gone. I got worried and looked for you." I shrugged, and turned to Buttons, using my sleeve to wipe the soot off her face. "You okay?"

"Maybe… in a minute…" Buttons mumbled. She was panting heavily, and I noticed her face was pinched from pain. "I… did something to my ankle. I think it's just bruised, but…" She glanced up and gasped, straightening in an instance. "Chrom, Kestrel, what is that?!"

Both Chrom and I whirled, and could only stare as light suddenly converged in the sky. A magic seal crackled into life, spinning very slowly, and a strange blue sphere appeared in the sky, surrounded by white crystals. It was almost like someone's eye, gazing upon everything, and I was reminded of the pictures of Naga and Grima in their draconic forms.

The blue sphere rippled, and strange… things fell from it. They smelled of death and rot, and they moved about jerkily, as if manipulated by an unskilled puppeteer. They wore tattered, broken armor, and they were stitched together haphazardly. What voice they had echoed eerily, as if from the bottom of a well.

They were also stupidly fast. Blue lunged, drawing Falchion and striking whatever it was across the chest. However, what would've been a crippling blow against a normal foe didn't seem to do much of anything. It just turned its head at an unnatural angle, bones cracking and breaking from the force, and then twisted to strike Blue.

I drew my blade, planning on helping, but I quickly had to block as another one of the things tried to decapitate me. I grit my teeth and shifted my footing as it pushed all its weight on me, in an attempt to break through my guard. Feeling my arms strain, I quickly stepped to the side, forcing its axe to slide off the side. I kicked it in the stomach, hoping to wind it, but it caught my leg and twisted, throwing me into a tree. My teeth rattled from the impact, and I slide down, groaning as I tried to undaze myself. The thing lunged, coming at me again, but I managed to duck between their legs and spun, stabbing them through the neck. Unfortunately, I misjudged the distance, meaning I also managed to stab the tree with it.

The thing flailed a bit, trying to catch me, before it growled and went limp. Its body disappeared, evaporating into smoke, leaving me with a sword stuck in a tree, and not even the blood of my enemy to show for it. I sighed and almost went to pull it out, but a loud scream made me jerk. I nearly panicked when I saw one of these… things… had Buttons cornered against a tree, her bum ankle making it impossible for her to do anything but slid down and bring up her staff as a useless shield.

I quickly realized I had no time to retrieve my blade and shield her, so I picked the latter, wrapping my arms around Buttons and twisting so that the axe would hit my back.

A sharp 'clang', however, told me someone managed to block it. I looked up, expecting Blue. Instead, however, I looked onto a strange person, with hair the same color as Blue's, but wearing a butterfly mask to hide their face. They held themselves as still as possible, as the twisted attacker tried desperately to break their sword.

"Help!" Mask yelled, glancing over their shoulder. Rushing footsteps told me that they'd been yelling at Blue, and the attacker glanced up, startled by the new noise. Mask took advantage of the distraction to twist, striking at the thing at the same exact time Blue did.

For a brief moment, everything seemed to still, and Buttons and I could only stare at whatever just happened. Then the creature growled and crumbled, evaporating into smoke.

Buttons slumped, relieved to the point of tears, and I helped her up, pulling her into my side as we moved closer to Blue. Blue shifted to stand in front of us, watching Mask closely. He kept Falchion unsheathed, but at his side, a clear indication of 'I am wary, but I am also trusting you.' Mask, meanwhile, just sheathed their sword, and deliberately set their hand on the hilt to hide the design.

"Quite the entrance," Blue eventually murmured. Mask barely glanced back over their shoulder. It was impossible to tell what they were thinking. "What's your name? I owe you for protecting them." Mask didn't reply. "Hey, did you hear-?" The sound of hooves pounding the ground made all of us whirl. "Oh, great, now what?"

"My lord, my lady!" Shiny and Robin rode up, both looking frantic. "There you are!" Shiny continued, slowing his horse to a stop. Robin didn't even wait for the full stop before jumping off and bolting for me, hugging me so tightly that I couldn't help but freeze. He had… never been free with hugs before. "Are you unharmed?"

"We're fine," I replied, mostly to have an excuse to step out of the hug. It felt… weird. "Thank you very much for finally waking up to come help."

"My apologies." It was telling that Shiny didn't even try to defend himself or make some sort of sarcastic retort. "The paths were broken and the fires cut off even more. We've been riding in circles."

"If I'd thought something like this would've happened, I definitely would've left a note," Blue sighed. I thought he should've left one anyway, but maybe that was just me. "Sorry, Frederick."

"My lord, so long as you and my lady are well, I am fine," Shiny replied. He looked at them worriedly, and actually dismounted to poke at them both. "Thank the gods… I do not know what I would do if you two were harmed."

"Frederick, we're not…" Blue sighed, shaking his head. "No, forget that. I'm sorry, Frederick. Again."

"Besides, you should give some thanks to the masked man!" Buttons chirped. She seemed to have recovered from her near brush with death rather nicely, surprisingly so in my opinion. "If it wasn't for him, Kestrel and I would be…" She turned, likely to gesture to Mask, but to everyone's surprise, they weren't there. "Huh? Where did he go?"

"My lady, let us worry about that later," Shiny replied. Now that he was sufficiently reassured, he was back to being stoic. "We must first put these… things… to the blade. Eyes open. We know nothing about this enemy."

"I take it they're not commonplace then?" Robin asked dryly. He frowned, tilting his head curiously. "They're almost like the dead, but walking. Is that possible?"

"Not that I know of."

"I have heard of a few dark magic curses capable of enslaving corpses, but nothing of this magnitude," I replied slowly. Mother had once called the dead, to be a shield as we ran. It had been horrifyingly stressful on her body, and I maintained it hastened her to her death. That was something only a tenth of this. "You also hear of historical accounts from a thousand years ago about the Grimleal and the walking dead, but I always thought the numbers were exaggerated." Now, I wasn't so certain.

"I'm going to hope that it's just a new spell, and not a demon dragon coming to play," Blue deadpanned. I almost burst into laughter because of just how… he was saying it with two Vessels of Grima standing right beside him, one of which was a perfect Vessel. You could argue that Grima was already out to 'play'. "There's forts. Let's head there."

"Following you."

"Kestrel, you and Chrom need to fall back!" Robin called. Though I wanted to protest, the injury on my leg made it clear that moving forward would not be a good idea. So, I jumped back behind the walls of the abandoned fort and moved to fetch a vulnerary and some bandages from my pack. Buttons, however, quickly bolted over and healed up my injury. She gave me a smile, and actually passed me a piece of candy she must've had in her pocket before rushing off, likely to help Robin.

Shrugging, I popped the candy into my mouth and smiled slightly. Sweets were rare thanks to everyone still recovering, and sweets like this was something only nobility could really afford. I hadn't had candy in a very, very long time.

"These things just keep coming," Blue groaned as he limped over. I gave him a concerned look and he shook his head. "My muscles are just protesting. We've been fighting for over an hour at this point."

"How can you tell?" I asked around the candy. I refused to let that little bit of sweetness go. "Last I checked, the smoke had blotted out the sky."

"Smoke is clearing up now, so the fires are dying." He half-fell next to me, groaning. "This was supposed to be a simple patrol. That's why I chose for there only to be three of us. With things being so tense with Plegia, I didn't want to take more."

"Why are you all even this far south?"

"Heard that the borderlands were being besieged by bandits, so here we are. Phila wanted to bring in the pegasus knights, but I thought that would make Plegia jump." He groaned again, this time leaning back against the wall. "What a mess. Emm is going to be worried."

"Well, no one is dead yet, except for whatever these things are." The candy fully melted in my mouth and I stood up to slowly stretch and avoid cramping. "Shiny seems to be doing just fine."

"Frederick is an old hand, though he is a bit out of practice these days. He's pulled triple duty all my life, and I think the strain is getting to him, though he'll never admit it. Too loyal."

"Huh." I looked out a nearby window, studying the landscape. I frowned when I noticed something. "Hey, Blue?"


"There's a redheaded rider wearing Ylissean armor and a blue-haired archer wearing a bib to the south of us." I pointed for emphasis as I turned to face him. "Who are they?"

"Wait, seriously?" Blue pushed himself up and limped over to my side, frowning as he found the people I mentioned. "Well, the redhead is Sully, though I don't know what she's doing here. She's one of the Shepherds, and a childhood friend." He shook his head. "I've… no idea who the man is, though. But having an archer around will probably be very helpful, considering Robin is our only fighter who can attack at range."

"I'll let Robin know." I walked off, hunting for Robin. It was easy to find him. He was snapping orders at Frederick.

"Frederick, fall back to get treated!" Robin called. I grimaced when I noticed that Frederick was sporting injuries. Since he was easily our most heavily armored person, that didn't speak well for us. "Lissa, I need you to heal him. If you're running low on staff charges, let me know at once ." He sighed, glaring slightly, but he smiled when he was me. "Kestrel, how are you and Chrom doing?"

"We're doing fine," I reassured him. I made sure to smile back. "We spotted some fighters to the south, one of which is a Shepherd. Blue might've already gone to get them."

"Really? What sort of weapons?"

"One is a rider like Shiny. Less armored, and I didn't get a look at her weapon. The other is an archer."

"I will take both, if only to set things up." Robin sighed again, but this time in relief. "We don't have much more to deal with, from the looks of it, but it's definitely the toughest for last."

"Well, where do you need me?"

"Right now, exactly where you are. I don't want to give you orders until we get those two."

I nodded in reply and moved a little closer, leaning into him slightly. We had always done this when we were taking a break. He unconsciously leaned back, making me smile. It seemed there were some things he remembered, even if he didn't realize it. That reassured me.

I straightened when Blue ran up with two strangers in tow. I instantly dubbed the girl 'Red', because that was her predominant color, and the man became 'Ruffles' because of the stupid cravat he wore. "Any word on to why they're here when we need them?" I called, smiling slightly. "It is mighty convenient."

"Apparently, I'm a day late, so Sully came to check in on us," Blue laughed. He gestured at the two. "Robin, Kestrel, this is Sully and Virion. Ignore Virion's limping. He has simply learned why Sully is sometimes nicknamed the woman to end all men."

"Should I be worried?"

"His flirtation tipped over into harassment. He's apologized and promised to be more careful when he flirts." Blue shrugged, while Ruffles simply executed a picture perfect bow. He was definitely a noble. "Robin, where do you need them?"

"Right now, I'll need Virion to provide covering fire while Sully plays hit and run to draw them closer," Robin answered. His eyes narrowed. "But there is something…" He gasped. "Frederick and Lissa haven't touched base with me."

"Well, that's where I'm going." Blue bolted down the path, actually jumped down to a lower level instead of using the stairs.

"Chrom, hold up!" Robin groaned as Blue refused to stop. "Reckless…" He glanced at me pleadingly, and smiled when I nodded and already started off. "Thank you. Now, Sully and Virion…"

Robin's voice trailed off in the distance as I ran down the path, chasing after Blue. I caught up to him before long, mostly because he still wasn't recovered from his earlier limping. The two of us cut through some of the strange creatures, mostly just knocking them down so that we could find Shiny and Buttons.

We found them not far away, surrounded by these things. We quickly struck at the same creature, turning it to smoke, and then set up with Shiny to form a protective triangle around Buttons. She gave us a grateful smile, though there was a touch ruefull, for some reason.

"Sully is here with a newbie," Blue explained to Shiny. His arms shook slightly, and it was clear the battle was taking its toll on him. I couldn't even pretend to tease him, though, as I was just as exhausted. The battle earlier in the day, however brief, had not done us favors for this sort of fight. "Robin is coordinating them."

"Then we just need to take care of these, as I think the only one by their side of the field is the leader," Shiny replied. I tried to think of just how these things had a leader. "Now, once more!"

"On it!"

"You two are certainly chatty on the field," I muttered, before lunging forward to catch a sword user across the chest. They retaliated instantly, gouging my arm, but I twisted away and slammed my sword through its neck. I nearly screamed as it bit my neck, but it evaporated soon after, leaving me bleeding badly and teetering.

"I've got you!" Buttons declared. The calm blue light of a healing staff washed over me. "Oh…" She made a face. "Darn it. I'll need to to a second one to-"

"If I'm not going to immediately die, save the charge, just in case."

"Well, let me better clean your neck, at least." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a handkerchief and a little vial of what smelled like vulnerary. "Bite wounds are dangerous."

"All right." I let her pull me down to sit among some roots and held still as she carefully cleaned the bite injury. Blue and Shiny continued to fight, but I closed my eyes to focus more of sounds. If anything got close, I'd need to retaliate. However, the others managed to keep the things off of us, and I spent an awkward few minutes trying to not squirm as Buttons kept poking my neck. My instinctual reaction was to attack, but I knew she was only helping, so I held myself stiffly.

"And… there," Buttons declared. There was a bit more rustling and I realized when I opened my eyes that she had bandaged my neck too. "I'll want to check on it in the morning."

"That's fine," I reassured her. I stood up slowly, grimacing as my muscles protested. They were definitely, definitely not enjoying the 'two battles in one day' thing. "The others?"

"I think they've finished killing everything." She stood up too and brushed off her skirts. "Shall we join them?"

"You go ahead. I'm going to make sure we're secure."

"Okay." She gave me a little wan smile, before walking off. I watched her closely, worried she'd stumble, but then left to do my little patrol when she caught up with Blue. It seemed he, at least, was talking to Mask, who had suddenly reappeared. I was curious, but didn't bother wondering. If I needed to know, I'd learn about it one way or another.

As I walked, I found some evidence of the creatures, namely their weapons. Not even their armor remained, however, and that concerned me. Everything about the things concerned me.

I had a very bad feeling about all of this, and all my instincts were screaming that either Robin and I needed to permanently run from our destiny, or it was going to rip us apart.

We decided to just make a new camp in the fortress. Ruffles was apparently joining the Shepherds, out of thanks for the shelter, and because he was actually good with a bow. In the morning, we planned on making our way to nearby villages, to make sure they were all okay.

Blue, Buttons, and I had been 'excused' from watch rotation, but I was tempted to volunteer anyway, just because I couldn't sleep anyway. You'd think I'd just pass out because of everything, but no, I could only lie there, trying not to groan as my muscles throbbed. Those creatures just wouldn't leave my head. The old stories of how the dead walked and fought alongside the Grimleal echoed through my thoughts. Was this another thing from the Grimleal? Was this another trick to try and capture Robin and me? Robin and I had vowed to not die before our father, but…

Of course, Robin didn't remember any of this and, damn me, I just didn't want to explain it. I didn't know how to. How were you supposed to explain to your amnesiac twin brother that we were born to bring about the end of humanity? Especially since we were in Ylisse, the land that tried to purge all of Plegia from the world, just to 'stop' the Grimleal. How many would rise up in arms if they learned just what we were?

I couldn't explain. I didn't know how. I was scared to. I might be comfortable with dying, but I still wanted it to be a death of my own choosing, damn it.

"Kestrel?" Button's low murmur drew me out of my thoughts, and with a groan, I sat up. She squeaked as I did so. "Um…"

"Yes?" I prompted, mostly to get her to continue. I had no intention of dealing with her stammering when I was this tired.

"Uh…" She fiddled with her hands. "So, I know you probably don't like me, and that I'm spoiled, and that-"

"Buttons." I gave her a tired look. "What is it?"

"Um…" She ducked her head. "C-can I sleep with you? Please?"

"Me?" That… was not something I had expected. "Why me?"

"Well, it would be weird if I asked Frederick or Chrom, and even weirder if I asked Robin or that Virion fellow. Sully tosses in her sleep and mumbles horribly." She glanced up tentatively. "But I… I don't want to fall asleep alone. It's childish, but-"

"You're scared."


"You're scared because of earlier, and you do not wish to sleep alone."


"All right." I found myself smiling slightly. "Everyone gets scared when death brushes that closely." I realized now that she hadn't been 'doing well' earlier. She had simply hidden her fear behind a smile, because there was a battle. That took a lot of courage. "Well, come on." I lifted my blanket up and gestured for her to come closer. "I do plan on sleeping soon." Somehow.

"Thank you!" She gave me a giant smile before slipping under the blanket, curling into me. "Seriously, thanks."

"It's fine." Hesitantly, I stroked her hair. "Just close your eyes. Even if you don't actually fall asleep, that will be better than nothing."

"Okay." She did as I said, and it actually didn't take her long to fall asleep. However, as soon as she did, she started trembling, likely caught in a nightmare. I sang a soft lullaby, in the hopes that she'd calm down, and hugged her to provide some sort of comfort.

I was vaguely aware that she had stopped shaking by the time I managed to nod off, and the last thought I had before I drifted into a dreamless sleep was about how I might've underestimated this little girl's strength.

Info on Robin:

Class - Tactician; Reclass - Mage, Priest

Though he knows some swordsmanship, he focuses more on magic, being very proficient in it. Despite losing his memories, he is a very trusting person.

Very fast, though some traits about him imply a frail health. Not very balanced, but his speed makes up for it.

Kind and mysterious, with a charisma that draws people in. He is also very eager to learn just about anything.

Chapter Text

Interlude - Ylisstol

Despite the very rough start to the journey, the rest of the trip to Yllistol was surprisingly quiet. Buttons and I shared a blanket for the first couple of days, and then we just shared tents as she calmed enough to sleep alone again. This was when I learned she was a prankster at heart, but she quickly learned to not play pranks on me, thankfully. I didn't want to have to explain to Blue why I accidentally killed his sister. He might just kill me for that one.

Now, though, we're almost at Ylisstol, capital of the Halidom, and I have no idea what I'm going to do. I know a lot of secrets, but...

"But soft, what yonder window breaks-"

"If you're going to spew poetry at me this early in the morning, Ruffles, then at least make it original."

"Original, you say? Why, my lady Kestrel, I had no idea you thought so highly of my creativity!" He coughed to clear his throat. "Where true love burns, desire is love's pure flame; it is the reflex of our earthly frame that takes its meaning from the nobler part, and but translates the language of the heart."

"That's a nice poem, but if you don't move, I'm going to splash oatmeal on your bib because you don't have the sense to move out of the way while I'm handling a hot pot."

"It is not a bib!" He sighed dramatically. "Still, even when angered, your voice is as lovely as your namesake."

"I take it you haven't actually heard a kestrel's cry. It's a rather high-pitched noise, and not anything I'd call a song."

"I find it rather beautiful to hear, actually. Rather like you." He smiled and bowed slightly, taking my hand and completely ignoring that I was handling hot metal objects. "But really, my most beautiful miss, you have the most fitting name. A kestrel bird flies elegantly and gracefully through the air and swoops down to claim its prey, just as you have swept me off my feet and stolen my heart."

"Oh, did I? You can have it back." I groaned as he opened his mouth to retort and tugged my hand from his. "Just shut up and set some plates out for everyone."

By now, it was almost routine. I was the best cook out of the group, as quickly proven when Blue, Red, and Robin decided to try and cook a lunch and nearly knocked us all out, so I got up first to make something for breakfast. Ruffles, for reasons unknown to me, often ended up second, and would spent part of his time reading while I cooked. The rest of his time, he spent trying to flirt with me. I'd be infuriated, but he did back off when I made it clear when I was uncomfortable and did his level best to never make me uncomfortable again. He also lent his books to Robin to read, which made him smile brightly. It was hard to hate someone who made my twin happy.

"As you wish, my lady," Ruffles replied with a little bow. "Virion, away!" I could do with less dramatics, though. I really could.

Sighing, I checked the oatmeal and made sure there were no lumps or anything before taking it off the fire and banking the fire so that it would simply warm, and not burn. After that, I went to the tent I shared with Lissa, intending to wake her up. To my surprise, though, she was already awake. It normally took a lot of prodding to get her up and moving in the morning.

"Ugh…" Worse, though, was that she was whimpering. "Why me?" she complained. Whatever was going on, she was barely dressed, and looked like a wreck. "Ugh…

"Buttons?" I called. She looked up at me pitifully. "What happened?"

"This!" She dragged her nightgown from where it was balled up in the corner and held it up. "See?" She pointed to a very noticeable crimson stain. "This happened!"

"Oh, your period came during the night." I smiled slightly. "Having your nightgown stained is not the end of the world, Buttons."

"I'm not fussing over that. This is an old one anyway!" She groaned, and I resisted the urge to point out that it looked very new by my eye. "It's that my period came early! I didn't bring any pads!"

"Buttons, I have some." I went to my pack and pulled one of the cloth pads out, passing it to her. "You should make sure to bring some next time, even if you're not due. In my experience, it always comes when it's most inconvenient."

"Yeah, that makes sense now!" She grumbled before whimpering again. "And on top of that, I'm cramping…"

"I used to get bad cramps too." I smiled slightly and ruffled her hair. "Why don't you get a bath? You'll feel better, and the water will help. While you do that, I'll get some tea ready for you."

"Cinnamon tea?"

"Cinnamon is out of my price range, but I've found ginger and peppermint worked for me." I stood up and took her nightgown from her. Noticing the blankets were stained as well, I picked them up too. "I'll have it steeping while I wash these."

"You're going to wash them now?"

"It's still a few hours to Ylisstol, and it's better to deal with these sorts of things when they're fresh." I smiled. "Trust the female mercenary, Buttons, especially since I've a few years on you. I am very used to blood."

"I bow to your wisdom!" She laughed and even managed curtsey while still sitting. "Thanks, though. Really."

"I'll be back in a moment, unless you need my help getting a bath ready?"

"No, I'll ask Frederick to help. But thank you." She smiled sweetly. "You're the best, Kestrel."

"I'm really not, but that is kind of you to say." I shook my head and smiled back. "Be back soon."

The others were just stirring as I stepped out of the tent and I set the bundle of clothes down to fetch a kettle, kindly 'donated' by Ruffles, and stoked the fire back to life so that I could get some water boiling. I ducked back into my tent briefly to fetch some ginger and peppermint to put into a mug, and got Buttons's tea set up as she finally stepped out of the tent herself and walked over to Shiny. Once all that was done, I picked up my bundle and picked my way towards the nearby river. While the others were busy, Red caught sight of me and, perhaps curious, she trotted over, looking at my burden with a curious expression.

"Okay, curiosity is killing me," she noted after a moment. "Are you seriously doing laundry? We're not that far from Ylisstol."

"Perhaps, but poor Buttons got a little visit from Mother Nature during the night," I replied. I showed her the blankets for emphasis, and she winced in sympathy. "So, I'm going ahead with these."

"Yeah, that's a better idea. The maids back home always said to tend to these things fresh." She shrugged. "Want help? They taught me when I went to be a knight."

"...Sure, it's probably better to have two eyes for this sort of thing." Things like this reminded me that Red was probably a very high ranked noble. She was childhood friends with Blue, after all. "Can you do laundry, though?"

"I hate it with a passion, and I wouldn't trust me with anything delicate, but doesn't seem fair to make the maids clean out all the blood." She smirked slightly. "Besides, this gets me out of early morning chores. Which I am also very bad at and hate."

"Well, follow me then." I'd probably just have her help spot spots. "I'm sure the boys can serve themselves."

"Yeah, Frederick will make sure they leave some for us." She grinned. "After you, then!"

I managed to get most of the blood out, and Red helped wring them out so that they wouldn't drip all over the place. By the time I got back, Buttons had finished her bath and was gratefully drinking the tea I had made. The others were digging into their food, and it wasn't long before we were back to walking. There were only two horses with us, after all, so we couldn't ride.

Still, in only a few hours, just as I predicted, we were in bustling Ylisstol.

"So, this is Ylisstol?" Robin breathed with wide eyes as he stared at the milling crowd. We were on a hill next to the market, out of the crowd, but definitely close enough to see and hear them. "I've never seen so many people!"

"Robin, in case you've already forgotten, you've barely seen any people thanks to your amnesia," I replied. Still, everyone was far more cheerful than I expected. "Looks like the earthquake and everything didn't reach here."

"Yes, the quake must've been limited to only the forest," Shiny whispered. He frowned slightly. "Given the power, though…" The people here really should have experienced some sort of aftershocks thing. "I have a bad feeling about all of this."

"Those are cursed words." I noticed some movement in the crowd, and it was soon clear just why. "Looks like the Exalt is walking about her people. Exalt Emmeryn practically glided through the crowd, smiling gently as she passed people. Those she smiled at had a look of ecstasy on them, as if they'd been blessed.

"Really?" Robin asked. His eyes were narrowed. "Is that really safe? There looked to be at least thirty different ways someone could hurt her."

"Meh, no one in Ylisse would hurt her," Red noted. She looked unimpressed by everything, while Ruffles looked like he was preparing his lines to flirt with the Exalt. "And she's got guards. Hidden, but there."


"Relax. It does the people good."

"It does?"

"Yes, the exalt is a symbol of peace, Ylisse's most prized quality," Shiny explained. He gave me a dirty look as I choked on a bitter laugh. "Long ago, at the dawn of our age, the First Exalt joined forces with the divine dragon and laid low the fell dragon, who wished to destroy the world." He gave me another dirty look as I choked on another laugh. "Exalt Emmeryn reminds us of the peace they fought for."

"She's a calming presence, reassuring the people when others might call for war against Plegia," Blue added. His smile was both soft and rueful. "She walks among the people to soothe their spirits and ease their worries."

"She's also the best big sister in the world!" Buttons chirped. She then got a confused look as both Robin and Ruffles yelped. "What? What is it?"

"My goodness, I guessed you two were nobility, but I did not guess you were royalty!" Virion breathed. He bowed to them both. "Please forgive my rudeness, your highnesses."


"You said you were shepherds!" Robin snapped. I was a little startled; he used to just roll with everything. "Shepherds!"

"We are, in a manner of speaking," Blue replied. He squirmed slightly, clearly uncomfortable. "We just have a lot of sheep."

"Besides, didn't he say that his group were called 'Shepherds'?" I pointed out. Red was too busy giggling and Buttons looked confused. Shiny was paying more attention to the crowd than our antics. "They have a knight traveling with them, Robin, who tolerates their constant teasing."

"You knew?!" Robin yelped, whirling on me. He looked aggravated, and I really didn't know what to do. He'd never… "Why didn't you tell me?"

"It's not exactly a secret, Robin, and I'm not the one with amnesia here." My voice was far drier than I had intended, but in all the weirdness, sarcasm was probably my only shield. "I figured he'd told you in the time between you losing your memories and me finding you. So don't yell at me for not telling you useless information."

"I'm not yelling, and it's not useless."

"Always has been to us."

"Well, I don't know 'always' anymore!"

"Don't yell at me!"

"I'm not!"

"Um…" Blue stepped between us, and I felt almost a little disoriented when I realized Robin and I had… been arguing, a little. We'd never argued, especially over something so pointless. It had always been just us two. "Robin, I'm sorry," he murmured, shifting slightly as if to shield me. That only made me bristle more; I didn't need protection! "I should've said something. I just never did like formalities, and I liked being around someone who honestly didn't know my rank. Frederick played along for Lissa and me."

"Oh the sacrifices I endure for the realm," Shiny instantly deadpanned, easing the tension in the air. I still felt horribly uncomfortable, and wondered if I should just leave. "Exalt Emmeryn, you did not need to come to us."

"I heard arguing and became worried." Emmeryn walked up to us, with a woman in Ylissean Pegasus Knight armor trailing behind her. "Welcome home, Chrom, Lissa, Frederick," she greeted. Her smile was sweet, and seemed far more genuine than the smile she'd given the crowd. "Oh, and good day, Sully. I see you found my wayward siblings. How fare you all?"

"Well, Emm, we shouldn't have a bandit problem for a while," Blue answered. He stayed exactly where he was, and I grit my teeth to resist the urge to snap at him. I really did not need protection, and the differences in Robin were just… I knew it wasn't his fault, but they hurt anyway. "And our people are as safe as they can be. But we need to watch the borders. They crossed over from Plegia."

"Forgive me, my lord," the pegasus knight murmured. She looked almost pained as she bowed. "My knights should've intercepted them."

"No, Phila, your duties were here, with Emm." Blue smiled reassuringly. "I feel much better knowing you're here protecting Emm. I can handle a few bandits."

"You're too kind, my lord."

"Besides, we had help!" Buttons cheered. She skipped over to hug Emmeryn before gesturing dramatically to Ruffles, Robin, and me. "Ta-da~! This is Virion, Robin, and Kestrel. Robin and Kestrel are twins. They're all really nice. Even Virion, though he talks weird!"

"Lissa, please," Emmeryn laughed. She smiled gently, and I noted it was the same one she had given the crowd. "You have found new comrades then, Chrom?"

"We did!" Buttons had no problem answering for Blue, and Blue definitely didn't seem to care. "They're going to join the Shepherds!"

"I'm certain you have given Frederick no end of trouble." Her smile softened again, to a 'more real' one, as she turned to him. "Chrom and Lissa are truly blessed to have such a tireless guardian, Frederick. I do hope they remember to mention that from time to time."

"They do express something akin to gratitude every once in a while," Shiny answered with a surprisingly soft smile and light tone. Emmeryn laughed a bit in return, and I noticed Buttons looking confused and Blue looking almost pained. "But there are other things to discuss besides how suspicious our new companions are." His smile fell and he turned to Phila. "Have you seen some deathly creatures on the roads?"

"Yes, there are reports coming in from all over Ylisse," Phila replied. I decided to call her 'Feather' for the feather-pendant she wore, mostly hidden by her armor. "Do you have more information?"

"We do," Blue replied. His eyes narrowed slightly as he crossed his arms. "Council?"

"Yes, and I am glad you came back in time to join us," Emmeryn murmured. Her smile and cheer faded. "Let's head home, Chrom." She gave one last smile to the rest of us before turning away and walking down the path, Feather exactly one-step behind her. Blue followed her, with Shiny falling in at exactly one-step behind him. Buttons and Red cheerfully took charge of Robin and Ruffles, leading them 'somewhere'. They probably intended for me to follow, but I hung back, feeling out of place.

Tears of frustration pricked my eyes as I remembered the argument. It shouldn't be a big deal, and yet it was. It was just another reminder that while Robin might physically be my twin… mentally, he wasn't. He was a completely different person, unburdened by the stress of our lives and devoid of the few good things we'd experienced. He had forgotten everything, both the bad and good. He wasn't my twin brother anymore. It was more like he was a stranger who had the same face.

I wondered if I should leave. I clung to him like a burr, and lashed out when things were different, even though it was obvious they would be, he would be. I expected him to act as he did before, despite the whole thing being stupid. It was stressful on me, and I couldn't imagine the stress on him. What did it feel like, being a blank slate and having to deal with a twin sister you didn't know, but were told you should, getting mad at stupid things you couldn't help?

That wasn't even going into the dangers both of us represented. I still could not find the courage to tell Robin just what we were. I couldn't tell him that we were basically Grima, that we were Vessels masquerading as humans. There was nothing human about us. We were just good at pretending. We could never have normal lives. We were just…

"Kestrel?" Blue's shout jolted me from my thoughts, and I whirled, trying to figure out why he wasn't gone. "You must've been pretty deep in your thoughts," he noted, walking over. He looked startled by something and fumbled through his pockets for something. "Ah… here…" He passed me a handkerchief, for some reason. "You're crying…"

It took me a second to realize he was right. At some point, the little pricks had turned to full-blown tears, and I hadn't noticed. "Guess so," I whispered, taking the handkerchief and hiding my face with it. While I'd wanted to cry many times, it had been a while since I had actually cried. "What are you doing back here?"

"I remembered while I was walking that you had a few insights into the theory behind all of this, so I wanted to ask if you'd mind coming with me to the council meeting." His voice was soft, and he looked genuinely concerned when I peeked up at him. "But if you'd rather just go to bed or something? That's what Emm does when she wants to cry. Well, actually, she tries to be alone, which you might to, and I… would be stepping on that, but I didn't realize you were crying when I approached and-"

"You sound as if you're trying to talk around a foot in your mouth." I used the handkerchief to mop up my tears, but noticing how dirty it was, I tucked it into my pocket instead of giving it back. I was dustier than I'd thought from traveling. "You just… need me to report what I saw, and give my thoughts based on my travels."

"Yes, if you're up for it. If you're not-"

"I'm really not one for weeping, and I am really not one to be protected, especially one-sidedly." I sighed, checking the urge to grimace as I realized just how stuffed up I felt. "Just lead on, Blue. I don't want to be around Robin right now."

"I'm sor-"

"Damn it, don't apologize!" I groaned as he winced. "Let's just go before I say something that might be technically true, but it comes off as harsh like I did to Buttons that first night. I'm a mean person."

"...I think you're in pain, not mean. A 'mean' person wouldn't have spent so much time reassuring Lissa."

"Well, pain isn't an excuse. Aren't we going to be late?"

"Right, this way." He smiled slightly. "Did I ever thank you for saving her, that day?"

"I honestly don't remember." I shrugged. "I just happened to run in the right direction. There's really no reason for thanks."

"I think otherwise. My sisters are my only family, and mean the world to me." He shook his head. "But yes, right, meeting. Frederick is going to have a lecture if I'm not back soon."

"Oh, dear, a fate worse than death." I managed a smile as he laughed. "Lead on."

"Oh dear gods, I have a headache," I groaned as Blue and I walked out of the castle. We had just gotten out of the council meeting, which had been hours of people screaming at each other in fear, barely kept in check by Blue and Emmeryn. "I… should thank you for the save." When I had explained what I knew, one particular noble had accused me of summoning the 'Risen', as we were calling them. Blue had shut him down quickly, followed by Emmeryn commenting that I was an 'honored guest', which apparently meant 'insult her again, and see what happens', except nicely, because Emmeryn didn't fight.

"I just pointed out how ridiculous the idea was," Blue replied. He looked drained. "Emm is the one who got him to see reason."

"Still, my way of shutting him up might've been a little more… permanent. I don't deal well with threats."

"Then maybe he should be thanking me instead." He managed a small smile and I laughed softly. "We're almost at the Barracks. That's where Lissa and I stay."

"You don't stay in the castle with your sister?"

"No, I don't want luxuries that my Shepherds can't share, and the castle is full of them. I like the simpler things, really."

"I don't know. When I was a child living in an alley, I would've killed for something like this." I winced at how dry and bitter that came out. "I really didn't mean anything by it. Please don't ask."

"Of course." The quick way he replied told me he had been planning on asking. "Regardless, that council meeting was worse than usual. No wonder that Frederick is staying back to talk to Phila and Emm about defenses." Something flitted over his face then, but I chose to not comment on it. "I hope this isn't a sign of things to come."

"We have the literal dead walking and there's war practically on your doorstep whether you all believe it or not. The only way this is getting worse is if you have an attack from Valm or Grima shows up."

"Valm is the continent across the sea, right? They tend to keep to themselves." He made a face. "Yeah, I do think those things would be worse. But they're also rather improbable." Well, Grima could show up, if Robin and I ever got caught by the Grimleal. "Ah, here are the Barracks." He gestured to the building up ahead, and I was startled by how simple it looked. "Here's hoping Vaike didn't break anything. Or that Maribelle didn't try to put everyone through etiquette training again. Or that there's not bunches of flower petals clogging the rooms. Or-"

"You're only going to give the gods ideas if you keep that up." I nudged his side. "Go on already. It's starting to get cold, and I don't like the cold."

"Right, good idea." He still visibly steeled himself before opening the door and breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, good. It already seems better than the last time I left for a patrol." He smiled slightly and stepped to the side to usher me in. "After you."

"My, my, aren't you the gentleman?"

"Maribelle would have my head if I forgot my manners." He grinned as I rolled my eyes. "Come on. You just said you hate the cold."

"Yes, yes." I stepped inside, noticing just how warm it was in here, even in this entryway. It was very clear, by that alone, that the Shepherds had a very nice house, regardless of how it looked on the outside.

He took lead again and led me down the hallway, past some rooms that looked like storage. We passed by a little kitchen, and what looked to be the entrance to a salle. But then we stepped into a living room like area, one filled with laughter and people. The first thing I really noticed, though, was clutter. Books were scattered all over the place, as well as discarded practice weapons. Flower petals dotted the ground, armor was set strangely straight on the nearby wall… It looked lived in. It looked like a bunch of people had taken the time to make it a 'home'.

I hadn't been in a 'home' in a long time. The feeling was only reinforced when the people in the room cheered some greetings at Blue when they realized he was here. I recognized only Robin, Buttons, Red, and Ruffles in the little group, but the others were clearly very glad to see him again.

"C-captain!" One girl in particular looked very enthused. "You've returned!" she breathed, smiling widely. I was… I mean, we were so…!" She promptly tripped and fell flat on her face. "Ugh…"

"Sumia, are you all right?" Blue asked. He offered her a hand up as if this was a very normal thing. "Those boots of yours again? You really should change shoes."

"I don't think new shoes will fix my balance." She whimpered slightly as she stood, and then turned very pink as she snatched her hand away, hiding them behind her back. "I-I'm fine, though! Really!" This was definitely a girl with a crush. I was also reasonably certain Blue had no idea. "Um… oh!" She peered around Blue to stare at me. "Who's this?"

"This is Kestrel, another new Shepherd." He gestured to me, and urged me to come a little closer. I hesitated before doing so reluctantly, noticing how strangely warm the air of the room was. These people… they were not suspicious. Blue had brought me here, and they trusted Blue implicitly. He had their loyalty; that was why they were here. "She was helping me give a report for the council."

"Oh!" She smiled sweetly. "My name is Sumia. It's so nice to meet you!"

"It's nice to meet you as well," I replied automatically. While 'Klutz' was the first thing that came to mind for her, I decided that was too cruel of a nickname, so I settled on 'Petal' for the flower petals in her hair. "Oh, Captain, Sir Robin and Lissa told us about what happened."

"Why do I have a title, and not the actual princess?" Robin asked dryly. He laughed slightly, and I tried not to squirm. I should be happy that he could laugh so freely, but it was just… so weird. It was weird to see him so happy. "But yes, Chrom, what's the plan? You two were in there for a very long while. I managed to get one of your Shepherds mad at me."

"Maribelle takes time to warm up to people," Blue instantly replied, sparking another round of laughter. Whoever this Maribelle was, it seemed she either had a fast temper, or was very, very honest. "But after many hours of deliberation, it was determined that we'll head to Regna Ferox."

"Regna Ferox? Where is that?"

"That's the unified country to the north of us, right?" Petal asked. She frowned slightly in thought. "I've never been. They say it's inhabited by barbarians."

"Classic Ylisse right there," I muttered as the others nodded. Thankfully, no one heard me, so I shook my head and decided to give a minor bit of clarification. "They value war, or rather strength in arms, more than anything. Feroxi believe there are multiple levels of paradise after death, and only those who die in battle or childbirth are allowed access to the highest and most peaceful level. It's the only really 'religious' thing about them, unlike Ylisse's devotion to Naga or Plegia's worship of Grima." I had heard many argue that War was Feroxi's 'official' religion and deity, though they did use the 'by the gods' generic swearing like most others on the continent. "That devotion means one key thing: they are a nation of warriors, with a standing army."

"And we need their aid to combat the new and old threats," Blue added. "Typically, it would be the Exalt who asks directly, but Emm worried at how the people would react if she suddenly went on a trip or, worse, Plegia's reaction. So, the task has been passed down to us." He shook his head. "Now, this is strictly voluntary, even more so than usual, and-" He was instantly cut off by just about everyone in the room cheerfully agreeing to the task. "...Every day, I remind myself that I am very lucky to have you all as my comrades, but today, I feel as if I am especially lucky. Thank you."

"Um… Captain, can I come along?" Petal asked. She fidgeted with her hands, and looked down at the ground. What little bits of her expression seemed miserable. "I know I'm not… really ready… but…"

"If that's what you want to do, then I have no quarrel. After all, there are some lessons that can only be learned on the battlefield." Blue shrugged. "Just stay by me, and you'll be fine."

"Oh, yes!" She flushed and I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. She definitely had a crush. "I mean… yes, sir, I'll do that."

"Excellent." Blue turned towards Robin. "In that case, Robin, you and I need to work on strategies for everyone. Or, at least, I need to tell you about everyone."

"Sounds good," Robin replied. He sounded enthusiastic about it. "Uh… Kestrel?" However, his enthusiasm dropped for a bit of awkwardness. "Do you want to listen in?"

"Mmm, it's probably better that I don't," I answered slowly. "I'll probably get in the way. I'm good at fighting, but tactics for more than a handful of people isn't really my forte. You were always better at it."

"In that case, I'm going to steal her!" Buttons declared. She jumped to my side and snagged my arm. "Come on! I'll show you around! Sumia, want to come with?" Petal hesitated before nodding. "Great! Let's go!"

Buttons was much stronger than you'd think, considering she managed to drag me around despite my digging my heels. At least she and Petal were cheerful enough?

Buttons and Petal ended up giving me a very, very extensive tour, and extracted a promise to eat breakfast together in the morning before escorting me to 'my room'. My stuff, what little I had, had already been moved into it. It was a rather nice room. There were windows covered by thick curtains, rugs to help warm the wooden floor. The bed was soft and piled high with blankets and pillows, and there was a small desk and nightstand nearby. There was a little note from Robin on the desk, telling me that he was sorry for yelling, and that he'd tell me that in person in the morning. There was even some changes in clothes, hand-me-downs, but still good.

I'd never had a room this nice before, not even in the few inns Robin and I had managed to stay in. I had also… this was the first time I had ever had 'my' room. I was the only one here. I wasn't sharing it with anyone.

The whole thing unnerved me. I was used to being able to sit up and chat with Robin, no matter the hour. I was used to hearing the sound of someone breathing from close by, a reassurance that no matter how much the gods hated me, they had not yet left me alone. Except… now, I was. I was alone. Robin might be with me physically, but he wasn't the same.

I, alone, knew about our past. I, alone, knew what exactly the Grimleal plotted. I, alone… couldn't find the damn courage to tell anyone about this.

Sighing, I changing out of my traveling clothes at last into something comfortable, but wasn't quite 'night clothes'. Then, I left 'my room' and wandered the barracks, hoping that the inanity and exercise would help me sleep. However, as I wandered, I heard the sound of something shattering, and bolted for it, cursing the fact that I was unarmed. I listened for any additional sounds and followed the faint clues to hopefully find what had broken, and who had broken it.

I swung into a room and paused as all the pieces came together. I was in a salle. Blue must've been practicing. The sound had been one of the mirrors lining the back wall breaking.

"That's supposed to be bad luck, you know," I noted lightly, staring at all the shards. He whirled at my voice, but relaxed quickly when he saw me. "Breaking a mirror."

"I've heard that, yeah, but isn't that just a silly superstition?" he replied. He laughed a little before grimacing. "Frederick is going to lecture me."

"Yes, a fate worse than death. Is there a broom?"

"Ah, yeah." He held up a hand as I came closer. "You stay there. You're not wearing shoes."

"Oh, I suppose I'm not." And I had to admit that even if I had lots of practice with it, digging glass out of your feet was never fun. "I didn't notice."

"I figured, since you were prepared to walk forward." He easily found the broom and dustpan in a small closet off to the side, and even more easily started sweeping up the mess.

"You have a lot of practice with this."

"I… uh… break things a lot, especially while practicing." He flushed all the way to his ears even as he dutifully continued sweeping. "A lot, actually. One of the reasons I was given Falchion was because it's literally unbreakable. I still have to maintain it, of course."

"Of course." I had figured he'd been given Falchion because the thing chose its wielder, and it had only accepted him as the next one. It was a point of pride among the people, strangely enough. "Why do you break so many things? You don't seem to be klutzy."

"Well, not exactly." He fell silent, the sound of the broom and clinking glass filling the air. "I'm not 'properly' trained, really. Frederick trains me, but that's more of strengthening and conditioning sort of things. I mean; he taught me how to fight on horseback, but his specialty is the lance anyway. So, I experiment when I train, and… well…"

"You break shit." I pointed to the mirror for emphasis. "Because you misjudge how far your reach goes."

"That, and there's been a few times where I've just misjudged my footing or grip strength." He sighed heavily. "Emm gets mad, of course. For one thing, I don't always break inexpensive things, and for another, it's not uncommon for me to hurt myself."

"I can see that." Everyone might talk about Emmeryn as if she was divine incarnate, but it was easy to imagine her scolding Blue about breaking something. Maybe it was because I was a sister too. "It's strange that you're not 'properly' trained in wielding the Falchion." I gave him a curious look. "After all…"

"My father was my primary teacher." His voice dropped to a hiss suddenly, enough to make me jump. "And I will not. I will not fight like him." He glared at the broken mirror shards. "I will not."

The hatred in his voice was almost enough to make me shake, and I couldn't help but wonder if, perhaps, it had been no 'accident' that he had broken the mirror. After all, it was often a topic of gossip how much Blue took after his father in looks. It was normally followed with something like 'thank the heavens he inherited his mother's kindness!', but I wondered if he looked at his reflection, saw the parts he had inherited, and hated it.

I did. I hated my reflection. I looked more like Mother than my father, thankfully, but I could still see him in my reflection. I avoided looking at mirrors at all costs because of it. I couldn't imagine how much I'd hate them if I had taken more after my father.

I couldn't think of a way to reply to that, though, so I just lingered in the doorway and watched as he swept up as much of the shards as he could and discard the mess in a nearby trash bag. My eyes focused on the practice swords on the wall, and an idea bloomed in my head.

"How about a spar?" I suggested. He looked at me like he wasn't sure he heard right, and I gestured to the practice swords. "Maybe we can pick up some tricks from each other. I'm self-taught, and there's always something that 'clunks'."

"You sure?" He looked startled before smiling. "I'd like that, actually. No one else in the Shepherds fights primarily on foot and with swords."

"Be warned; I won't go easy on you."

"Good, because I intend to respond in kind." His smile softened. "And thanks, Kestrel. For listening."

"All I did was stand here." I shrugged. "Come on. Let's get the swords. I don't want to be skewered by Falchion."

"Yeah, that might be a little painful." He grinned as I snickered. "Thanks."

"There's nothing to be thanked, except maybe not damaging your pride."

Info on Chrom:

Class - Lord; Reclass - Cavalier, Archer

Typically called 'Blue' by Kestrel.

The Prince of Ylisse and Captain of the Shepherds. His strong convictions help him lead his unit fairly, yet firmly.

Primarily self-taught swordsman, who focuses on balance so that he is rarely in a situation he cannot adapt to. He also knows how to fight on horseback, thanks to training from Frederick.

Seems oblivious to just how much love and devotion he inspires, blind to both the loyalty of his Shepherds and the crushes of other people, like Sumia.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2) Shepherds

And so we head for Ferox. Ferox is a large country to the north, divided into East and West and both ruled by Khans. I wonder if the Shepherds know anything about Ferox and its politics, but I doubt it. Ylisse is isolationistic, and Petal's comment about 'barbarians' makes it clear that they've barely learned even basics.

Ah, diplomatic incidents in the making. That's us! (Gods, help us.)

All was calm inside my tent. Outside was chaos, but I ignored it all as I lounged on some pillows, a luxury that I greatly enjoyed, and sharpened my sword. The sound of the whetstone over the iron was soothing, even as I noticed the signs of it reaching the end of its durability. I would have to buy a new one soon. A shame, but a needed one. I only hoped I had enough gold to buy a decent one.

"You've been frowning for some time," Robin noted. I glanced up to see him watching me closely. He and I had drawn the lucky stones to avoid the 'lunch camp' chores, and thus, we were both relaxing in my tent, with him reading through bunches of books and me tending to our weapons. "Is anything wrong?"

"I'm surprised you noticed with how enthralled you are with your book," I teased, mostly to avoid answering. It really wasn't important. "What are you reading anyway?"

"Well…" He held up the book to let me read the title, and pouted slightly when I just gave him a look. "Come on! You can read!"

"Just tell me. We're having a conversation."

"Mean." He grinned, though. . "It's a tactics book!"

"I got that." I rolled my eyes and he laughed. I was slowly, slowly, getting used to hearing him laugh so much. "What is it, though?"

"Oh, right." His grin somehow widened. "It's a book of tactics that analyzes the strategies used by Lady Katri during something called the Campaign of Fire. Whatever that is."

"It's an old history-legend thing. Hard to separate fact from fiction there."

"But the tactics are amazing! And she made it through with minimal casualties!" His eyes sparkled and he nearly knocked over the stack of books next to him as he gestured wildly. "Virion was right. It is fascinating."

"Figures Ruffles gave it to you." I frowned as his cheer faded and set my sword and whetstone to the side. "What?"

"It's just…" He visibly groped for words before sighing. "Nicknames."


"Nicknames. You call everyone by nicknames."

"I… do, yes?" I didn't call Emmeryn by a nickname, but he didn't know that. "Why bring it up?"

"Because… I've noticed something the others haven't yet. I don't know if I'm just… more observant, or if it's a lingering…" He grimaced, and I tried not to wince. "But, these nicknames aren't affectionate."


"It's not like with Sully. That's a nickname, yes, because she dislikes her birthname, Soiree."

"That's a rather pretty name, but I can see why she'd dislike it." I hadn't known 'Sully' was a nickname, and was a bit curious as to why she had it.

"Stop trying to distract me." His eyes narrowed. "It's a wall. A barrier. You give them nicknames to avoid getting close. You give them nicknames, because their 'names' make them real and, for some reason, you just want them to stay faceless strangers."

I tried not to stiffen. He was right, but I wasn't going to admit it. "What an odd claim. What makes you say that?"

"You don't call me by a nickname."

"You're my twin."

"Am I? Or am I just a stranger wearing his face?!" He raised his voice suddenly, and I automatically flinched. Robin never yelled, and it flat out scared me how much he sounded, and looked, like our father when he did. "Damn it, why do you keep your distance from everyone, Kestrel? They just want to get to know you!"

"Well, that's all fine and good, but keeping distance was always safer!" For everyone else. Our first friends were massacred by the Grimleal.

"Then why are you here?"

"Because you asked me, dumbass!" Something just snapped in my head. "You asked me, because you wanted to 'learn about me' or something! I'm sorry I'm messed up from the past you got to forget! I'm sorry for being mad at your complete change in personality! I'm sorry that you don't get a pretty little sister who worships your every breath! I'm sorry you get a broken mess of a twin, but gods damn it all, you don't get to complain about how I act because you don't know a fucking thing about me anymore!"

As he stared in shock, I snatched up all his books and threw them out of my tent, before shoving him after them. He protested something, but I tied the flap shut and threw a bunch of pillows at it to both make sure it was properly closed and to give an impression of 'slamming the door shut' without having an actual door to slam.

Then I buried myself into the pillows and burst into tears, using them to muffle the sound. I just had no idea what to do anymore.

I hid in my tent all through lunch. I didn't even know who cooked, as I didn't eat at all. I could go a while without food. Grima liked his Vessels strong and durable, and I had reaped the lion's share of that little trait, even if I wasn't a 'perfect vessel'. I could bleed more, and just last longer, than most. It was a trait that kept me alive far longer than my lack of armor should allow. Robin had always called it an asset, a blessing, much like how he was just fast and could cast spells quickly. I always called it a curse, as it meant I lived when others didn't. But it was useful for when I skipped out on meals.

When we left camp, I purposely kept my distance from everyone as we walked up the Northroad, heading straight for one of the border fortresses. Whenever someone ventured close, I curled into myself in a silent plea to stay away. Luckily, the ones who did took the hint, and left me alone. Even Virion gave me my space, though he also, somehow, managed a sympathetic, flirtatious wink. I had no idea how.

Sighing, I tugged my cloak tighter around me and took note of just where… everyone was. Petal, for instance, was riding with Shiny, chatting happily about something she read. Buttons skipped along merrily, humming a rather jaunty little tune as she entertained those who listened with stories about a prank she'd pulled on her sister a few weeks ago. Blue and Robin talked quietly, bent towards each other with slight smiles and laughter, even as their eyes were serious. I smiled slightly, glad that Robin had a friend, even as I felt… horribly jealous. We'd only ever had each other before now. It felt weird, 'sharing' Robin, especially when… we had the Heir to Naga and the Hero-King, Wielder of the Falchion, chatting happily with the Perfect Vessel of Grima, Destined to bring about the end of humanity. It was weird. I felt like it was all too… nice. Too peaceful. Too… everything. It was like someone was offering me a bouquet of flowers, when all I had seen before were withered, dead and rotting. It just didn't feel real. It felt wrong. It all just felt so wrong, but I couldn't explain that. I didn't have the words for it.

The sound of hooves caught my ear, mostly because of how distant and frantic they sounded. I paused and turned, frowning as I noticed a single rider heading straight for us. That seemed… odd. It had only been a couple of days since we left Ylisse. There shouldn't be a messenger yet.

"A lone rider?" Blue came to my side, frowning too. "If it was a message, Emm would've sent a pegasus knight," he murmured. I glanced around to see that the group had stopped. "Who…?"

"W-wait for me!" the rider shouted then, as if he'd noticed that we weren't going anywhere. "Hey!" The rider slowed his horse from a gallop to a walk, sighing in relief. "Oh, finally, I caught up." Noticing his green armor, and green-grey hair, I instantly dubbed him 'Green' and wondered why so many Ylisseans dressed in a single color that matched their hair so perfectly. "Ah, hello, Captain Chrom. I'm glad to see you're well."

"Stahl!" Blue cried with a giant grin. He clapped Green on the back as Green dismounted. "I was wondering why you weren't with us. Did you get distracted by breakfast and miss the marching time?"

"No, I skipped breakfast to catch up!" Green looked some combination of laid-back, exasperated, and a little hurt. But the group itself seemed to relax. Whoever Green was, it was clear he was something of a peacemaker. "Why was I not told about this expedition?"

"You… weren't?" Blue looked confused. "That's… Lissa?" He turned to Buttons, who was also frowning heavily. "Lissa, you were the one who arranged messengers to the Shepherds who weren't with us at the Barracks, yes?"

"Yeah, I was," Buttons answered. She sounded annoyed. "The 'Teach' over here was supposed to tell Stahl, but clearly, that was too much for him! I bet he forgot again!"

"Hey, the Vaike never forgets!" 'The Vaike' immediately protested. I prided myself in trying to avoid him to the point that I didn't even want to come up with a nickname. He reminded me far too much of the men in taverns who liked to grope and then protested when I broke their fingers in retaliation. But if I had to, I'd go with Blondie. "I just… don't always remember, is all…"

"Ugh, I swear, Vaike, you'd forget your own name if you weren't saying it all the time!" She glowered and stomped her foot. "Did you remember your axe this time?"

"Hey, that was one time!" Blondie paused. "Okay, two, but training sessions don't count. But anyway, I've got it right here!" He brandished his axe for emphasis, and I tried to figure out who thought having an idiot with an axe as a soldier was a good idea. "Teach is loaded and ready for action!" His bravado faded as he looked to Green. "But… I'm sorry, Stahl. I-"

"It's fine," Green instantly reassured. "Well, I'm a bit annoyed still, but I know you didn't mean anything by it." He grinned. "You can make it up by sharing some snacks!" He snapped his fingers, though, and turned to Blue. "Oh, Miriel is also on her way. She ended up finishing her experiment faster than she'd anticipated. I think." He made a face. "You know how she is."

Green was soon dragged over by Red to chatter about something, and we all had an impromptu break, mostly to give Green's horse some time to rest and graze on some nearby grass. I hung back, just as I had before, and noticed how… just damn nice Green seemed to be. He was calm and reassuring, asking far more about others than he answered about himself. That made me… nervy. Most overly nice people I'd encountered were secretly serial killers and psychopathic manipulators. While he could be genuine, since he was a Shepherd and all… well, Blue had taken in two complete strangers, one of which was an amnesiac and one of which was a girl who knew far more than she had the courage to say, and surely even he had figured that out. Yet, here we were. On a diplomatic mission. Given free reign.

"You doing all right, Kestrel?" Blue even gave plenty of opportunity for me to attack! He just came over to my side, away from the others. "Kestrel?" He was damn luck that I wasn't of the Grimleal, as with a single dagger, or curse, or a bit of poison, I'd remove one of the greatest threats to Grima. All of which I had on me. "Kestrel?"

"Yes?" I finally replied. I tried not to squirm, and hoped he didn't realize I'd been thinking of how easy it would be to kill him. "What is it?"

"I asked how you were doing," he repeated. He peered at me worriedly. "I know you said you were a traveler, but… well, we're a loud bunch at the best of times, and nerves make us worse and-"

"I'm fine." The lie was easy. "Regardless…" I pointed to Green, who was in the middle of laughing with Buttons and Blondie. "That is…?"

"Stahl, one of our most reliable soldiers." Blue grinned. "I'm incredibly glad he's with us. I always feel safer."

"Even more than with Shiny?"

"'Shiny' likes to lecture." He grinned and I couldn't help but laugh a little. "Not very safe."

"Perhaps you shouldn't give him so much to lecture about?" I laughed again as he groaned. "And who is this Miriel mentioned?"

"A powerful mage, brilliant if socially awkward. She experiments often." Blue crossed his arms. "She'd initially refused because she was in the middle of a delicate one."

"Like what?"

"Hell if I know. Keep a dictionary handy when you talk to her. You'll need it."

"Okay?" I might've asked, but then I noticed something. Something glinted from the branches, and my eyes widened as I realized it was the tip of an arrow. At first, I thought it was aimed for Blue, and I pushed him back before realizing the arrow wasn't aimed at him at all. It was aimed at Buttons, but Robin had just moved in the path.

I lunged without thinking, hoping to knock Robin off balance, and get all three of us out of the path. I… mostly succeeded. Buttons and Robin were fine, but the arrow slammed into the small area between my neck and collarbone, knocking the air out of me.

"Kestrel!" Robin caught me as I buckled. "Virion, get that archer!" he snapped, shifting to bear most of my weight. "Kestrel, can you hear me?" Some gasps and cheers told me that Ruffles had been successful. "Lissa, I know you're shocked, but I need you to unfreeze and-"

"Don't waste... heal charge," I gasped out. My vision was a little grey from the pain, and I grimaced as I remembered the caveat of being able to survive a lot of damage. It meant enduring a lot of pain. "Just… cut it out… bandage... little vulnerary... be fine."

"Tactician. Battle. Now."

"...Right, of course." Still, he made sure to give me a hug, careful to not jostle the arrow, even as Blue snapped for everyone to fall into formation. "Kestrel."

"Robin, there is literally a-"

"I love you, sister." The words were soft, but certain, and they made me freeze. "I should've said that before. That's one of the few things I remember." He tightened his hug. "Your name, Chrom's, and that I love you, and I want you to be happy. I'm sorry I snapped. I just… want you to be happy."

"...Is now... really the time... to be making apologies?" Still, I sighed, and leaned into him. It was easy. I'd done this a lot, when I'd been injured in the past. "I'm sorry… too… I should've tried... to listen instead of just… falling back on how... things used to be."

"I'm sorry things have to be different, but I'll make them better. We'll make them better. You'll see." His tone was so earnest that I didn't know if I wanted to laugh or cry. He just… didn't know, and I couldn't find the energy or courage to tell him that we were cursed children. "Get your injury tended to, and at least have Lissa look over it."

"Fine, fine..." I was tired of arguing. "Oh, right. Almost forgot..." I pulled away slightly and managed a smile. "Love you too, brother."

His resulting smile almost made getting shot worth it. Almost.

Because of the suddenness of the battle, Petal was ordered to steer clear of the field. As a result, she was tasked with helping Ruffles cutting the arrow out of me, and bandaging it. I bloodied my lip to keep from screaming, since I stupidly told them to not use numbing herbs. I was used to that costing extra, instead of being something free. Then, leaving Ruffles to guard the unarmed Petal, I picked up my sword and jumped into the battle against the Risen.

"Are you certain you should be fighting?" Blue asked as we found a bit of a breather. On Robin's orders, we were fighting together, back to back, taking care of the Risen that slipped past the three mounted units, who were trying to charge through the lines to get the leader. Robin and Blondie were on the other side of the road, doing the same thing, while Buttons ran around frantically healing and trying to not die. "You were just injured."

"Blue, if you ask that one more time, I'm going to tell you exactly where to shove it," I snapped. The first time was nice, the second was maybe endearing, but I got tired after the twelfth time. "There's a battle."

"I know that!" He sounded aggravated, but I didn't turn to face him to confirm. "But arrows aren't things to just shrug off!"

"Based on where it hit me? It's just annoying. Trust me."

"Trust has nothing to do with my worry. You survived with just Robin for longer than I like. You're clearly capable."

"Than you like?" Now I glanced back, giving him an incredulous look as he grimaced. "What, you have to approve of my past now?"

"No, that's not it!" He shook his head, making what hair wasn't plastered to his face fly about. "I just… look, is it bad that I wish you and Robin had a more stable childhood?"

"You don't know us."

"That doesn't mean I can't wish you had better lives!"

"Are you two flirting or fighting?" Blondie suddenly drawled. Blue rolled his eyes while I glared. "C'mon, get a room!" He grinned broadly, as if we weren't in the middle of a battle against strangely not-smelly corpses that evaporated. "I know she's lovely, Chrom, but-"

"Vaike, don't drop your guard," Blue snapped. I glanced around and noticed Robin giving us all a 'what is going on?' look, and I shrugged when he caught my eye. "And don't drop your weapon."

"I didn't drop anything. It's right…" Blondie yelped as he waved his arm wildly. No axe in sight. "What the-?! Where's my axe?!"

"Please tell me you're joking."

"I had it a second ago!" Blondie started looking around frantically. "Seriously, I just had it! I cleaved a skull in two!"

"How is he not dead yet?" I groaned as Blondie continued to yelp and search frantically. I glanced at Blue. "Why is he here?"

"Believe it or not, he is skilled, when he manages to remember his weapon," Blue answered. He looked exasperated. "And he's here because he wishes to be."

"If he gets someone killed, I will yell at you."

"He's not going to get Robin killed."

"I said 'someone', not 'Robin'. My life doesn't completely revolve around my twin. I wouldn't be guarding your back if that was the case, Robin's orders or not. I'm used to ignoring him when he's being all order-y."

"I was more talking about how Robin is fighting with him, but good to know!"

I might've retorted, but then I noticed something strange. A woman holding an axe in one hand and a tome in the other walked down the road, absently looking around. "Hey," I whispered, pointing at her. Blue turned and sighed when he saw the woman. "Know her?"

"Yes, I do," Blue answered. He waved his arm, catching her attention. "Miriel, over here. Why do you have Vaike's axe?"

"Oh, do I?" the woman replied. She frowned slightly as she caught up. In the distance, I heard the others fighting, with Robin having switched to protecting Buttons. "I had wondered what sort of ignoramus had mislaid their weapon. Now I know." The woman's eyes narrowed as she handed the axe to an ecstatic Blondie. "Perhaps I should fashion a spell to fasten it to your hand. Permanently."

"You can't do that, Miriel." Blue said the words easily, even as Blondie squeaked a bit in fright. "For one, you promised no human experimentation. For two, it's impossible."

"Well, for her, perhaps, but not in general," I noted absently, more focused on trying to remember what the name of the wire and glass contraption Miriel was wearing was called. It was something relatively new, and only the rich could afford owning a pair. She also wore a very, very ridiculous hat. "It'll involve dark magic and a curse, though." Automatically, I thought of Mother, and how she had done that very thing with one of our pursuers. Then she'd overwhelmed their mind and turned them against their fellows.

"Fascinating," Miriel murmured. Her eyes narrowed. "You bear considerable knowledge of curses, then?"

"Nope." It was easy lying through my teeth. I knew a lot about curses. Unlike Robin, I had been taught dark magic. "Oh, look, a corpse is trying to eat us now. Back to fighting."

"A cunning distraction, but-" She squeaked as Blue and I snagged her shoulders and shoved her down as a Risen that had appeared from nowhere tried to bite her neck. "Ah. Most troublesome."

This was going to be a long, long battle.

Thankfully, with the addition of another mage, Robin got us all through the battle without suffering more than minor injuries. Unfortunately, this meant that my initial arrow wound, aggravated by the fighting, was the 'worst', and thus, I was stuck in a tent with Buttons and Petal after we all set up camp for the night. Good news was that I was excused from camp chores, but it did mean I had to deal with Buttons fussing far too much over a tiny little hole near my neck.

"Oh, I hope it doesn't scar," she sighed, dabbing some disinfectant on my injury. I'd won the argument against her using a healing staff, mostly by pointing out that she didn't have that many left in her staff, and we still had quite the journey ahead. "My teachers always said that was the worst thing that could happen to a girl."

"Your teachers need to get their heads out of their asses," I instantly deadpanned. I sighed as she gave me a slightly confused look. Her status as 'princess' sheltered her from some things, it seemed. "Later, when I'm not quite as tired, I'll tell you, or you may ask someone else. I'm liable to be horrifically blunt, and it's a sensitive topic."

"Okay?" She still looked a little confused before shrugging. "I'll trust you. You're way more travelled than I am. Plus you're older. Not as old as Emm, but Emm doesn't talk to me about worldly stuff. It's all about 'how are you?' and 'please stop putting frogs in nobles' pillows when they make me sad'."

"...Remember what I said about playing pranks on me?"

"Don't do it, because you're liable to accidentally hurt me, right?" She grinned, still working on cleaning my injury. "It's fine. Robin's a much better target anyway! His face has this funny rubbery thing going on!" She shook her head and tossed a pillow at Petal, who was sighing at something nearby. "Sumia! Talk to us!"

"Eep!" Petal squeaked, somehow managing to fall despite reclining on some other pillows. Her book flew up and then hit her directly in the face. "Oof…" She whimpered a little as she pushed herself up, giving Buttons a little hurt look. "I was in the middle of such a touching scene, too…"

Buttons simply laughed, but I focused on the book, noting the title. 'Ribald Tales of the Faith War'... that was a book I'd read about a year ago, mostly curious because of the sheer outrage that had erupted over its publishing. Someone didn't like taking 'the legendary Holy War of Jugdral', long used as a justification for the hatred of Plegia because of the easy parallels between Loptyr and Grima, even longer upheld as borderline scripture, as… well, the basis of some very, very smutty scenes. The book was very popular with girls, from my understanding.

"Where are you in it?" I asked, mostly so that Petal had something to focus on besides Buttons and her snorting laughter. "The Spirit Forest? Augustria?"

"Oh, I've read it four times already, but I'm at Sigurd's confession to Deidre," Petal instantly gushed. She sighed, clutching the book to her chest. "So romantic…"

I wasn't as certain on how 'romantic' it was. Then again, how fast the two 'fell in love' always just… bothered me. "I suppose. It's their later scenes that sold me on them."

"Oh, yes, I love the scene where…" She trailed off, eyes wide. "You've read it?!"

"Yeah, a bit ago."

"Yay!" She slid a little closer to me, eyes sparkling. "So, who's your favorite? No, wait, different question. Which character do you feel sorrier for?"



"...Okay then." I had to admit that was an unusual question, but I had nothing else to do while Buttons continued tending to my injury. I was just stuck sitting here among the pillows, after all. "Well, I always felt the most pity for Julius, truthfully, with Julia as a close second." Maybe it was because I was similar to Julius, but I had a parent who intervened before Grima could sink his claws into my brain. Maybe it was, like Julia, I was the twin to a 'perfect vessel', and if the Grimleal got their way, I'd lose my twin, just as she lost hers. "I think Deidre is up there, though."

"All of them, really, are pitiable when you look at everything." Petal frowned, and gave a pointed look at Buttons. "I've been trying to get Princess Lissa to read it."

"Is she even old enough? I've read it. I know what sort scenes are in there."

"I-It's very educational on that front!" Petal's face went bright red with a blush, even as she looked quite serious. "But it's got more than that!"

"True." I looked up at Buttons. "You might benefit from the sections focusing on Lady Alicia, actually. She was the primary healer during the first generation."

"Exactly!" Petal leaned a little forward. "Well, truthfully, I actually chose to stop my Cleric training because of them. I realized while reading those scenes that there was no way I could manage. What with the blood and stress and death and…" She shuddered. "I don't have the right mindset for it." She drooped a little. "I'm… well… a bit of a coward and..."

"...It takes courage and wisdom to realize what suits you and what does not." I shook my head. "Far better to realize it now, than in a moment where it would be needed, Sumia."

She blinked slowly, and I wasn't sure she was more surprised by my encouragement, or that I called her by name. "Th-thank you…" She eventually just chose to blush prettily. "That's… um…"

"Wow, you're good, Kestrel!" Buttons chirped, putting down her cleaning-wound-utensils and wrapping my injury up in a bandage. "There!" Task done, she promptly plopped down next to me, stealing a pillow. "But see how pretty she is? Sumia, I mean. You'd think that even my brother would-"

"D-don't finish that sentence!" Pe… Sumia yelped. Her blush deepened. "I just… the Captain just… b-besides, whoever marries him will be Queen, likely, eventually, and… and..."

"You'd make a kind Queen! And you've got the rank, as the daughter of a Viscount!"

"B-but… Lissa, there's no way!"

"B… Lissa, ease up," I chided. Bu… Lissa immediately stilled when I used her name. "You'll make her die of embarrassment at this rate."

"...That's fun, though!" Lissa laughed. She leaned into me. "But fine, fine. You two. Tell me more about these Ribald Tale thingys. Maribelle refused to tell me anything. Something about scandalous."

As the three of us talked, I made a bit of effort to make sure I actually used their names, instead of the nicknames.I doubted I could do it with most of the others. But, Robin… I got what he'd been trying to say. Putting up a wall wasn't going to be… healthy or helpful to me. We were no longer in a situation where we could really run. Well, I could, but I would leave him behind, and I couldn't do that. Not when I, alone, knew all of our secrets, secrets that could become deadly, in time, even if I was too much of a coward to tell him. So, maybe he was right. Maybe we could make things better. Maybe Destiny could change.

And maybe Grima could actually be killed, but according to the legends, that was impossible, so… yeah.

Info on Lissa:

Class - Cleric; Reclass - Troubadour, Pegasus Knight

Sometimes called 'Buttons' by Kestrel

The Princess of Ylisse, born after her father's sudden death. Due to her royal upbringing, she is an accomplished rider of both horses and pegasi, though she prefers staying on foot.

Despite being Chrom's little sister, she is noted for being incredibly approachable, without even the formal accent common to most Ylissean nobles. Combined with her tendency to snort when laughing, a rather 'unladylike' trait that is normally trained out of noble girls her age, many forget she even is a princess.

Still, despite her naivety and childishness, she is eager to prove herself useful, being quite skilled with a Heal Staff. Whether or not she keeps this up after seeing a real war infirmary remains to be seen.

Chapter Text

Interlude - Road

So, after encountering Risen and gaining more to our little party, one of whom I avoid like the plague because she is far too nosy, our group makes its slow way north. Though winter is still a couple months away, snow starts to fall, coating the road in ice and mud. Snow is rather rare this time of year for Ylisse, especially for Ylisstol, far to the south, so the Ylisseans gaze upon the snow in enchanted wonder.

I, however, spend too much time reminding people that there was this thing called 'frostbite' and was utterly convinced Blondie was going to freeze to death because he refused to wear a damn shirt. Something about it being a crime to hide his 'amazing abs'. Whatever.

There was laughter and shrieking and I glanced up from my book briefly to make sure no one was dying before returning to reading. Sumia had eagerly lent me her copy of Ribald Tales of the Faith War , with sparkling eyes that promised she'd ask me loads of questions, so I wanted to go ahead and read through it, especially since I had the great luxury of time to read. It used to be that I would take over a year to read even one chapter, because I could only read a few sentences in between jobs or when hiding from the Grimleal. Now, I could spend an entire afternoon just… reading. It was so weird, yet I couldn't help but love it.

"...Hey, Kestrel?" Robin's voice drew me from the riveting scene of Sigurd and Deidre's wedding, and I glanced up to see him looking a little thoughtful as he glanced up from his own book, the same tactics book Ruffles lent him. "Did we ever… do this in the past?" he asked softly. "Just sit in quiet, reading?"

"Not… recently?" I answered slowly. I frowned a bit and pushed myself up on the pile of pillows I was reclining against. We were in the tent Robin shared with Bl… Chrom, but Robin had raided the nearby tents for extra pillows, just for me, so there was a veritable ocean of pillows in the tent now. "We would curl up under blankets and read while Mom cooked, but we never really had the time, or luxury, to do so after she died."

"I see."


"I just… had a feeling of familiarity?" He sighed, running a hand through his very messy hair. "Like we had done this, but it was… you know… just the two of us." He smiled wryly. "Maybe it was a dream I had. Something I had wanted to do. Just sit, and read in the quiet, with friends laughing at something in the distance."

"Maybe." I smiled a little. "Sounds like something you would've wanted."

"Well, I get it now." He grinned and I laughed. "Kestrel, do you mind if I ask about…" He trailed off as I tensed automatically. "It won't be much. Promise. I was just curious which of our parents had white hair. You've a lovely auburn, and there's some part of me that associates it with 'mother', so did I get it from our… very mean father?"

"...No." I set the book down and gathered all of my courage to say… even a little bit. "You were born with black hair, like our father. But he…" My hands shook, but I tried to disguise it by fussing with the book. "Our father… tried to use us… use you… in a magic ritual. As a sacrifice."

"What kind?"

"I…" I tried, but shook my head. "Sorry. I can't…" I was too much of a coward. "I'm sorry."

"No, no." Robin moved to my side and hugged me. "No, don't be sorry. I just wanted to see if I could look it up. Don't worry. So, did my hair turn white afterwards?"

"Yes… as a side effect of so much magic channelling through you." Hesitantly, I leaned into him. "Sorry."

"No, it's fine. I'm sorry that I don't remember. I'm sorry you have to bear that knowledge alone." His hug tightened on me. "I'm sorry."

"How about we're both sorry?"

"Fine. I clearly can't win an argument against my twin." He pulled back and grinned, and I managed a little smile. "So… oh." He turned to the tent flap. "Who would be running-?"

"ROBIN!" Lissa burst through the tent flap, snow dotting her pigtails and dress. "Come on!" she cheered, snagged him by the arm and pulling him out of the tent. "Come play!"

I could only stare, and laugh, as Robin flailed about, unable to break out of Lissa's grip despite being over a head taller and at least twice as broad. I was still laughing as Bl… Chrom walked up, snow dusting his hair and armor, dripping from his cape. "If you came to get Robin, Lissa beat you to it," I joked, hiding my smile behind my hand. "Sorry?"

"No, there's nothing to be sorry about," he replied, looking distinctly amused. However, it fell when he looked at me. "Mind if I ask you a question?"

"Sure, go ahead."

"What do you think of, when you see the snow?" He gestured to the snow outside for emphasis. "I'm curious."

"The snow?" I hesitated before looking out over the laughing camp, watching Lissa teach Robin how to make and throw a snowball and the others laughing as they bombarded each other. "I think of cold. I think of frostbitten hands and desperately trying to get warm. I think of threadbare blankets and curling into others in a desperate attempt to not freeze to death. I think of ice and sliding on my face as I tried to run from scary people and scarier guards. I think of frozen rivers cracking and almost drowning. I think of hunger, of how there is less to forage. I think of having a steady supply of fresh water at last." I shook my head and tightened my cloak around me. "I… think a lot of things, when the snow falls. Winters aren't easy for those without shelter."

"I… see…" He gave me an almost mournful, almost pitiful look. But then it disappeared for bright eyes and brighter grin. "Well, then, you are very overdue for a snowball fight." He took my hand and dragged me out of the tent. "Come on! Virion, Kestrel's going to be on our team!"

"Oh, is she now?" Ruffles cried. It took me a second to find him, as he'd apparently built a snow wall to hide behind, but I found him quickly when he stood up to dramatically gesture. "Ah, what a fortuitous encounter! Surely, we shall find glory with such a goddess of victory on our side!" He promptly fell, though, hit in the face by a snowball that seemed to have been thrown from nowhere. "AUGH!"

"Well, there he goes," Bl-Chrom deadpanned. I couldn't help but giggle. "Come on. I'm sure he'll-"

"Hold on one moment, my lord." Shiny appeared out of freaking nowhere and wrapped a scarf around B-Chrom's neck. "There we are," he continued, even as B-Chrom made a face. "We can't have you catching a cold, my lord."

"Yes, yes." Chrom rolled his eyes, and left to help Ruffles up.

I went to follow, but Shiny wrapped a blue and silver scarf around my neck, carefully making sure it was tucked in and wouldn't get caught on anything. "What's this?" I asked, a little confused. I reached up to touch it, and found it soft.

"Oh, I made you a scarf as well, since I figured you didn't have one," Shiny answered easily. He frowned a bit as he fussed over the placement. "I made sure the primary color was blue, since you told Sir Robin that it was your favorite color, while the silver goes with your cloak and clothes."

"You… knitted this?"

"Yes?" He gave me a curious look. "Is that a problem?"

"N-no, it's not! I..." I hesitated before whispering. "Sorry, just… the last time anyone made anything for me was… gods, Mom was still alive. It's been over ten years. So, I was just…" I shook my head. "Besides, I know you're still wary and all."

"Of course. But being wary does not mean I wish for you to freeze." He looked more confused as I continued to stare. "Now what is it?"

"...It's…" I hesitated again before just going for it. "Okay, this sounds weird, but you sound, voice wise, a lot like my father. Except you don't say any of the same things. Which is a very good thing! A very, very good thing!" I was definitely babbling. "Sorry, I'll get used to it. Just a little weirded out, because-"

"My voice is similar to someone you expect only pain from." He smiled sadly. "Prince Chrom deals with that with some of the older citizens. Sadly, he looks, and sounds, much like his father. He does what he can, but…"

"Yeah, I can relate. I can see my father in my face, even knowing I look more like Mom." I shook my head. "Regardless! Thank you very much for the scarf. I greatly appreciate it and I'm sorry for not being more immediate in my manners."

"You are quite welcome." He bowed and walked off, likely to pass out more handmade scarves to the Shepherds.

As he left, I wrapped the scarf around my neck, and used it to hide my smile. Having someone make things for me… it really made me feel like I could find a home again. But my smile faded as I remembered all the things I was hiding from them. If they knew the truth, they'd likely chase me away, or kill me themselves.

I was scared. I was terrified, really, far more terrified than I had been when it was just Robin and me alone, running away from the Grimleal. Now, I had something to lose, and gods, I didn't want to lose this. This warmth, this… everything still didn't feel real, but gods, I wished it was. It was wrong, yet I wanted it, because this was the sort of life I could've had if I'd been human, and not a Vessel.

I wished I had run. Living to die was all the easier when you thought no one could ever be kind.

Existential crisis aside, the eventual snowball 'fight' was fun, though I had no idea who 'won'. Maybe that wasn't the point, since no one talked about wins or losses, but boasted instead of throws and hilarious falls. Virion had some of the most impressive shots, but the most falls went to Sumia, easily.

But after everyone was thoroughly soaked, and changed into dry clothes, I started making dinner alongside Green, and passed the food out. As I did, though, I noticed Robin, Lissa, Sumia, and Chrom were missing. So, after posting word to Shi… Frederick, I hunted for any sort of tracks to try and find them. Luckily, though, the four of them were together, and not far off.

I frowned, though, when I saw they were clustered around a pegasus, with Sumia calming it down. I had… no idea why a pegasus would be all the way out here. There weren't many wild pegasi anymore, thanks to the war forcing many to be captured, broken, and used. Logically, it would mean this pegasus once had a rider, and that the rider was… no longer here. Dead, but likely not long, as otherwise, the pegasus would've gone back to Ylisstol, or turned feral.

"Oh, Kestrel!" Robin called, waving when he saw me. He grinned broadly, eyes dancing. "Look! We found a pegasus! Sumia's amazing with animals, it seems, and she calmed it right down!"

"I see," I replied, keeping my tone light and making certain I smiled. "But don't you four know that you're missing dinner? Blondie's probably eating your shares right now."

"Wait, it's dinner?" Lissa asked. Her stomach grumbled right on cue, making her blush, while the rest of the group laughed. "...Food time, now!"

"You go on ahead," Sumia called. She settled next to the pegasus and gently began prodding its side for any signs of injuries and discomfort. "I'll eat a bit later. I don't eat much anyway. Got to keep my figure and all."

"Sumia, your figure is perfect already." Lissa stuck her tongue out as Sumia blushed prettily. "Chrom, don't you agree?"

"Uh… sure?" Chrom answered, looking a little startled. He glanced at Robin, who started snickering. "I have no idea, actually? But I'll take your word for is, Lissa."

"Ugh, you're the worst," Lissa retorted, sulking. Sumia, meanwhile, just turned redder and redder, shooting hesitant looks at the increasingly confused Chrom. "Whatever. Come on, Robin. Let's leave him and his obliviousness behind."

"What did I do?" Chrom groaned as Lissa refused to answer, hooking her arm around Robin's to drag him off. "Seriously, what did I do?" He glanced down at Sumia, whose face was as red as an apple, and frowned. "Wait, Sumia, are you okay?"

"Y-yes!" Sumia instantly squeaked. She ducked her head shyly. "You're fine! I mean; I'm fine! I mean… oh…"

"I think we should leave to go eat," I suggested. I smiled at her, and she gave me a grateful look back. "Are you certain you wish to wait? I wasn't kidding about Blondie."

"I'll be fine. I really want to check on this poor dear."

"If you're certain. I'll do my best to save you a bowl."

"Thanks!" She beamed before turning back to the pegasus, crouching down and stroking her nose, gently cooing.

Chrom and I exchanged a look and a shrug, and started to walk off, leaving Sumia behind. However, as we walked away, the implications of the pegasus weighed heavy on my mind, and so, I stopped and called, "Chrom?" I waited as he turned to face me. "Did Emmeryn send a messenger to Ferox to let them know we were coming?"

"...Yes," he whispered. His dark eyes told me he had already come to a similar conclusion. "She sent two, actually. One to ask them if they were in trouble, immediately after the Risen started showing up. That one never returned. The other was sent shortly before we left."

"I see." I glanced back at Sumia and the pegasus, noticing how easily the pegasus took to her. While some of it could be how good she was with animals, wild animals did not take so easily to anyone, good or not, in my experience. "So, the question becomes… accident or murder?"

"And, if murder, was it Plegia, or Ferox?" He sighed, tensing. "Tell Robin. I'll tell Frederick. But no one else for now. I do not want a panic among the ranks, especially right now."

"I'm not sure I fully agree…" I thought of Mom, and how she'd done her best to hide the worst from us. It only made things scarier when the worst came for us anyway. "Why don't we use that I travel a lot to make a mention that there had been some trouble? Nothing about the pegasus, but still, everyone knows to be guarded." I stepped a little closer to him and rested a hand on his arm as he remained silent. "Trust me. The worst thing we can do for them is protect them to the point that they are not ready or capable of protecting themselves. You can't…"

"I can't smother them. I can't lock them up. That's not protection. That's imprisonment with good intentions." He sighed and slowly relaxed. "All right. But only the four of us will know about the messengers."

"Yes, I can agree to that." I thought of the others, and sighed a bit. "Now, others might suspect, but they can choose to come with us or keep things quiet. I think this way, we'll keep everyone truly safe."

"Yes, I think so as well." He finally smiled. "Thanks. I was trying to think of how to bring the topic up."

"That's me. I'm an expert at bringing up awkward things." I smiled as he laughed and slid my hand so that I could tug his arm. "Come on. Let's go find them, and then, you can get a good meal."

"Now that sounds like a plan." His smile became a grin, and he easily fell in step beside me. "What's on the menu tonight?"

"It's a vegetable and rabbit stew. No bears this time."

"Darn, I should've hunted."

"Yes, you should've!"

As the two of us joked and walked back towards the main part of the camp, I thought I felt eyes boring into my back, but when I turned to look, there was only Sumia, who seemed very intent on tending to the pegasus, glancing up only once or twice before purposely returning to her pegasus. I wondered about why she'd be so tentative, but decided she must not want to 'bother us further'. So, I let it go, though I couldn't help but feel as if I was missing something, something very important.

Well, it would come back to bite me later. Life had a tendency to do that, after all.

The night rang with the sound of wood crashing on wood as Chrom and I sparred. What had simply been a way to help distract him had become routine. Once first watch took their posts for the night, Chrom and I would take to the fields near the camp and spar. Most of the time, it was just us two, but sometimes, others watched.

Both of us swung and we locked blades, both staring each other down as we tried to overpower each other. Then we both stilled and started laughing, unable to really help it. This, too, became increasingly common as we sparred. For one reason or another, we'd just burst into laughter, and would step apart to take a break while we caught our breath.

"You know; I never do quite get why 'blade locks' are mentioned so much in stories," Chrom explained. He walked to the side and picked up the towels resting by additional practice swords, tossing me one before wiping the sweat off his face. "There's so many ways to break free."

"It's a suitably dramatic time to spout off talking, like taunts or confrontations," I replied, wiping the sweat off my neck. I'd twisted my hair up into a bun instead of my normal ponytail, but I still had the stray hair stick awkwardly. "I'd try a kick, personally, or to twist and flip you on your back."

"Like you did last time? I'm still seeing stars."

"Serves you right for throwing me two nights ago."

"You were much lighter than I expected!" He brought his hands up defensively as I playfully glared. "I apologized!"

"Frantically, yes." I might've teased him more, but then I noticed Shi… Frederick walking up. "Well, it looks like someone ate a thundercloud."

"Oh, gods, what did I do this time, Frederick?" Chrom groaned, not even turning around. I laughed, unable to help it. "One moment." Sighing heavily, he went to go meet Shi-Frederick. I lingered back, stretching slowly as I let the wind slowly cool me down. A bit of clapping caught my attention, though, and I turned to see Ruffles was nearby. Sitting on a pillow he must've brought from his tent. With a mug of tea that looked completely out of place.

"Isn't it a bit late for tea?" I asked dryly, walking over. "Actually, shouldn't you be sleeping now or something? Beauty rest, and all?"

"Ah, I am flattered you are worried for the maintainment of my good looks, dear lady, but all hours are terrific for tea," Ruffles replied easily. I chose to not comment on how I was pretty damn sure 'maintainment' was not a word. "I am drinking a fine chamomile and lavender tea, to facilitate with peaceful slumbers. Might I interest you in a cup? Perhaps a rousing game of chess?"

"Why would you want something 'rousing' when you're trying to sleep?" I shook my head. "No to both. I'm not really fond of the taste of lavender, and I'm not really a chess person. I know the rules and all, but I never had the patience for it. I fight dirty anyway."

"But you fought so gallantly with our dashing prince!"

"We're just sparring, trying out new tricks without breaking things, in theory." I… tried to not remember that we'd broken five practice swords since we started these sparring sessions. "This is more stamina than actually winning."

"Ah, yes, stamina is so very important for many, many things." He smirked and winked, and I rolled my eyes. "Regardless, dear lady, might I ask a question of your vast travels?"

"You may…" I eyed him warily and tapped the practice sword against my thigh, waiting. As I had suggested, Chrom had told the others that I had remembered some 'trouble' in the area, and to be careful as we moved forward. Ruffles had been the only one of the group to have narrowed his eyes at the warning, and now, I was worried I'd have to speak around things. If I lied directly, I was dead certain he'd known. "What is it?"

"Have you ever traveled to Valm, by chance?

"Valm?" That was… not what I had expected. "I have, actually. I've been to Otrela, for instance, since that's the place with the biggest harbor. The Demon's Ingle. Chon'sin." I smiled slightly. "I was actually there for a flower viewing."

"Ah, yes, the cherry blossoms are simply breathtaking." He took a sip of tea. "Have you ever been to Rosanne?"

"Robin and I lived there for about a month, actually. Some mercenary work. It's a lovely little country." I smiled slightly. "It was the first time we could ever afford cherries, actually. They were so cheap there."

"You must've visited the south, then. Cherry groves are abundant there." His eyes were nostalgic. "That's my home, you see. Rosanne. I ruled it."

"Really?" I shrugged. "Sorry. I never learned much about the politics there."

"It's fine. Clearly, I no longer rule it." He set his mug down next to him. "Like here, there is a country that shares a name with the continent, Valm. A pitifully small country, truly, barely notable for anything, the last vestige of the old Valmese Empire that fell and shattered to civil war. Except it became the rallying point for another conquest, another attempt at unification. Through force." He sighed, tilting his head back up to the clouding skies. "Rosanne was one of the first to fall to Walhart."

"Is that why you're here?" I thought of what I remembered of Rosanne. "Rosanne never seemed very military minded."

"We weren't. There's knights, but no real standing army. Not even my fair Cherche could stand against his forces for long. But my people would've fought tooth and nail, and perished. So, I fled, knowing that without a leader, they would be disheartened and surrender."

"You'd be named craven, or worse." A commonality I'd noticed on Valm was a deep hatred for those who fled battles. "They would hate you."

"But at least they are alive to hate me, which they would not have been, had we faced Walhart the Conqueror."

"I see…" A troubling thought occurred to me. "This Walhart… what's going to stop him from coming across the sea to continue his conquest?"

"As far as I know? Nothing." He gave me a very somber look. "I have informed Exalt Emmeryn. If you, perhaps, could inform Prince Chrom? I hope that Walhart will not come while this trouble with Plegia bites at Ylisse's borders, but there is no telling what goes through the mind of a madman."

"I will." I frowned, though. "Why not tell him yourself?"

"What? And deny you the chance to spend more time with our dashing prince~?" He laughed throatily, but he got some weird look of understanding on his face as I continued to frown and stare. "Ah, I see. You do not yet notice the blossoms. That is fine; I shall enjoy watching them sprout and bloom. Just now, my dear lady, that I am forever in your corner."

"Oh… kay… then?" I gave him another confused look before shaking my head. "I… think I shall simply take that as you trying to say you're a friend, and you are trying to distract yourself."

"I think I shall count myself a very lucky man to have such a wonderful, and insightful, woman as a friend." He smiled and held up his mug of tea as if in toast. "Ah, but it seems Prince Chrom has returned for your sparring. Go on! I shall watch this match of legends!"

"Some days, I think you hit your head." Still, I gave him a worried look. "Are you all right?"

"Such concern touches my heart. Perhaps we might talk a bit longer, after-"

"I'm assuming that you're at least pretending very hard to be fine." I rolled my eyes, but looked at the mug, noticing something. There was no steam from the mug. It could've just have cooled, but I wondered if, instead, he was drinking something a little… stronger. There was wine among the supplies, after all. "Try not to drink too much 'tea'. We do march in the morning." I walked off, choosing to not listen to whatever reply he might have had, casually swinging my practice sword as I returned to the field where Chrom waited. He gave me a giant grin and waved as I approached and I couldn't help but smile as I waved back.

I would think of everything Virion said later. For now, though, it was time to beat a prince into the ground.

Info on Frederick:

Class - Great Knight/Cavalier; Reclass - Knight, Wyvern Rider

Sometimes called 'Shiny' by Kestrel

A knight of Ylisse, personal bodyguard of the royal family, Chrom's Deputy among the Shepherds. Despite his attempts to keep a professional distance, he has clearly been a father-brother-protector figure for both Chrom and Lissa.

Extremely devoted to the royal family, perhaps overly so, with a strong focus on training, discipline, and cleanliness. Some part of me wonders if it's because it's only recently that the royal family could walk through the streets without having rocks and mud thrown at them.

Strong and steady, but even he admits that he is a bit out of practice, since most of his time is spent taking care of Chrom and Lissa. Still, his experience is valuable, and he's always eager to learn.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3) The Warrior Realm

We continue northward, and the dusting of snow grows heavier. Twice we had to stop due to unexpected ice on the road causing bruises and even broken bones. We stopped in a village along the way to replenish healing staves, and make our way to the Longfort, the Feroxi fort that marks the end of Ylisse, and the start of Ferox.

The air is heavy as we get closer. I don't like this at all. But everyone keeps moving forward, unflinching, and I wonder just why I'm traveling with so many insane people.

I clutched my cloak around me as the wind bit and howled. We were on the edge of a blizzard, it seemed, and I couldn't help but marvel at how cold it was. Unless I misremembered, it was very unusual for there to be such a cold spell at this time of year. It was not yet winter. It made me wonder if this was just a natural cycle, or if this was supposed to be some sort of omen. Or maybe it was a consequence of whatever magic summoned those Risen, or the magic that was involved with that strange eye-like portal. Mom always said that big magics led to big upheavals in the natural world as it tried to adapt.

"I hope Stahl and Miriel are all right," Chrom murmured. He and I were walking together as we approached the grand stone fortress that loomed over us. "Things are dangerous…"

"That is why you sent both of them," I reminded. He had discussed this extensively with Robin and Frederick and all three of them had agreed to send the two as messengers to let the Feroxi know they were coming. Just in case. "Between her sharp mind and his easy-going nature, if something goes wrong, it's because they're looking for a fight."

"My head knows that. Everything else frets."

"Leave the fretting to Robin. There's no need for both of you making yourself sick, especially in this cold."

"Oh, right, he's riding with Sully because he felt nauseous." He looked at me worriedly. "Is that normal?"

"He's always been prone to fretting himself sick, and he no longer remembers what tricks he used to keep that at bay, so he has to relearn." The last part of the words was a mumble, and I had to resist the urge to growl. I didn't know his coping methods, so I couldn't even help him through this. "You just focus on what you'll need to do."

"Ugh, don't remind me." He groaned. "Frederick says that we'll need diplomacy." He sighed heavily. "Negotiation isn't my strong suit, but I have to do what I can. For Ylisse, I..."

"Feroxi negotiation often involves drinking contests and arm wrestling." I grinned up at him. "Relax." I playfully nudged his side, but then noticed something. "Your hands are freezing." I took them and tugged him to a stop so that I could massage his hands. "You should've worn gloves. Didn't Frederick knit some for you?"

"He was, but I asked him to take care of the others first." He held still, watching me work. "You aren't wearing gloves either."

"I'm still fine." That was a lie. I was freezing. I hated the cold. "So let's-"

"You think of frostbitten hands and desperately trying to keep warm when you see snow." His words were soft, and I was… absolutely startled that he not only remembered it, but that he'd brought it up. "Besides, you might be 'fine', but that doesn't mean you're comfortable." He twisted his hands so that he was holding mine and, carefully, began to massage them, just as I had been warming his. "Is it too much pressure?"

"...No, you're rather good at this. I'm surprised."

"Emm's hands cramp a lot. She has to write a lot of letters and… well, being the Exalt involves a lot of paperwork. I didn't like seeing her in pain, so I started massaging her hands to help." He smiled slightly. "I was bad at it at first, but I kept at it."

"I see." I felt a little shy suddenly and ducked my head. "Um… thank you."

"Well, you helped me first. It's only fair." He sounded like he was laughing a little. "I wish I'd known it was going to be this cold. We could've brought hand warmers to help counter the lack of gloves."

"Or we could've just brought gloves?"

"That too." Now he was definitely laughing. "Oh, Vaike is waving." He let go of my hands slowly. "Be right back. It shouldn't take long."

"Please don't try to have another contest. I don't think anyone wants to deal with the effects of you two cooking again."

"We only did that because Lissa forbade us from sparring." He sulked a little. "Besides, I won by knockout."

"That's not how cooking contests go, typically." I shoved him forward as he started laughing. "Oh, go on." I waved a bit as he walked off, before turning, planning on going to check up on Robin. However, someone instead decided to grab my arm and, when I looked down, messy pigtails and a button hat told me exactly who it was.

"Kestrel…" Lissa immediately whimpered. She gave me a rather pathetic look, helping by how red her nose and cheeks were. "I-I'm f-f-freebing!"

"That is because you insisted on no cloak, scarf, or gloves, Lissa." I tugged her into my side and wrapped my cloak around her. "Holy hell, you're like a walking ice statue."

"This is why you listen to your elders, Princess Lissa." Frederick walked up with a bit of a droll expression, leading his horse by us as he fell in step. He'd opted to dismount and walk to ease the burden on his horse while we walked over the icy ground. "We do know what we're talking about," he continued. "Of course, stopping to fetch them right now would-"

"K-Kestrel, Freddie's being mean!" Lissa whined, curling more into my side. "Ooo, warm~"

"He's trying to take care of you," I chided. Still, I tucked my cloak a little more tightly around her. "Weren't you with Sumia?"

"Sumia's gone to tend to the pegasus again." She looked up at me. "What were you doing with Chrom?"

"Talking?" I thought a bit before smiling slightly. "Or are you talking about massaging his hands?" I took one of hers and started to do the same. "It helps with circulation. The blood warms your hands."

"Ooohhh." She giggled a bit. "That's cool. I normally just wear mittens and have hand warmers. How did you learn that this works?"

"I… never really had enough to buy gloves or hand warmers." I suppose I could've tried stealing some, but I'd never really been good at that. Finding discarded things had been infinitely easier on both Robin and me. "So…" I trailed off as I caught a very strange sound: metal clanging on metal. I normally associated that sound with… "Why would there be fighting near?" I looked up at Frederick and saw him pale. "Please tell me I'm imagining it."

"I wish you were!" Frederick snapped and I pulled Lissa closer to me as his eyes went wide with panic. "Prince Chrom!" He lunged forward, slipping in the snow, but catching himself with his lance. "Prince Chrom, get back!"

But there was no time for really anyone to react, much less Chrom. Way ahead of us, Chrom was a sitting target for the lancers that suddenly appeared on the ramparts and threw their javelins, especially since he took precious seconds to shove Blondie out of the way.

Time seemed to slow for a brief moment as the lances flew right for Chrom with scary precision. I closed my eyes, not wanting to see him die, and clutched Lissa as she screamed and hid her face in my side. But then there was the sound of wings, and the sound of something 'whooshing' over my head, and my eyes flew open to see Sumia… Sumia had gotten on the pegasus, and done a fly-by rescue, saving Chrom in the process.

That pegasus was definitely trained. There was no other explanation for how Sumia pulled that off so perfectly, unless she was a literal goddess.

Most of the army surged forward as the pegasus landed and Sumia and Chrom dismounted, both to praise Sumia and to reassure themselves that Chrom was alive. I didn't, though. Instead, I stayed with Lissa, and helped her actually stay up as sheer relief made her legs buckle. She leaned heavily into me, shaking, and I used my sleeve to wipe the tears off her face.

"I thought the world was going to end," she whispered, clinging to me. She couldn't stop trembling. "I seriously, seriously thought…"

"It's fine," I whispered. I hugged her and rubbed her back comfortingly. "It's fine. I understand."

"Oh, gods, I never even thought Chrom could die. I mean… he's reckless, but strong! No matter how many times he left to deal with bandits or… or landslides or anything, he came back, safe and sound! Wounded, sure, but he always… always…!"

"It's okay."

"He could've died. He could've died."

"But he didn't. It's okay. He's okay." I didn't ask why she was freaking out more over Chrom's potential death than she had over her own. I could understand. Losing a sibling was painful, especially when they were your only family left. "He's okay."


"Shush. Just cry, Lissa. It's okay."

"He's supposed to always be okay! Never dead or… badly injured or… or anything! Like Emm! Nothing can happen to her, right? They're both amazing, and she's always guarded and-"

"Lissa. Just cry. It's okay."

Finally, she took my advice and just cried, clinging to me tightly. I murmured comforting nonsense and looked about the area, gauging everyone's reactions. Frederick was snapping orders to everyone to get into positions, and the rest were slowly listened. I saw Robin and Chrom arguing about something, and, when Lissa stopped trembling and stepped away to rub at her eyes, I gave her a small smile and went to Chrom and Robin. I hesitated at getting closer when I realized they were arguing-arguing, but I glanced back at Lissa and set my jaw stubbornly. Whatever they were doing could wait two seconds for Chrom to give her a hug.

"You cannot simply go ahead when we have no idea what's going on!" Robin growled. I automatically flinched, frightened by how much like our father he looked and sounded when angry. "What would you have done if-?"

"We don't have time for this," Chrom snapped. He then sighed, though, relaxing. "Sorry, but Stahl and Miriel…"

"...Right, we'll shelve this for later." Robin sighed as well and closed his eyes. "I hope we're not too late, or that this… attack isn't because of something they did."

"Gods, please…" Chrom shook his head. "Go on. I'll be with you in a second."

"Don't be long." Robin walked off quickly, eyes blazing with determination as he muttered and gestured, as if he were writing his ideas in the air.

I waited briefly to see what Chrom would do but, upon seeing him just slump, I walked over to him. "So, do you have any more information?" I asked softly. "We just heard battle and then…"

"Not much," he answered, smiling bitterly. "Something about being a false prince, or an imposter, and then… well, some Feroxi trying to turn me into a pincushion."

"She seriously thinks you're an imposter?" I poked his arm, right next to his Mark of the Exalt. "Does she think this is paint or something?" I shook my head. "Whatever, go to Lissa. I managed to calm her down, but she broke down."

"I…" He winced. "Damn, I owe her. Maybe some sweets or perfume?"

"Or how about a hug, idiot?" I shoved him towards her. "Go on. Just give her a nice big hug. Think about the sweets and bribes later. She needs it."

"Right…" He sighed, grimaced, and walked over to Lissa.

I almost went with him, just to make sure, but I happened to turn and see Sumia nearby, and was instantly alarmed at how pale she looked, so I went to her instead, resting a hand on her back to catch her attention. "Hey, what's wrong?" I asked, peering at her. She was even paler up close. "You sick?"

Sumia shook her head almost violently. "She didn't balk," she whispered. She looked at me worriedly. "I thought she would've, but she didn't, and she knew… what to do. That all wouldn't happen for a..."

"...Keep the thought, but don't spread it just yet." I reached over and hugged her. "You were amazing, by the way."

"...Thank you." She hugged me back briefly before stepping away, beaming. "W-well, I can contribute now!"

"Are you armed?" I laughed a little as her expression blanked. "Go to Frederick. I'm sure he has a lance you can use." I would be very, very surprised if he didn't. "I'll tell Robin you're up for battle."

"I will! Thank you!" Her smile warmed and she raced off, falling on her face only once. I watched to make sure she didn't hurt herself before turning to head to Robin.

To my surprise, Chrom was already with him, and he smiled slightly when I gave him a skeptical look. "I hugged her, and got yelled at," he informed me with great dignity. "She says she'll come up with a list of demands to be delivered after the battle. Then she went to get her staff."

"Well, so long as she is the one who stepped away first," I replied slowly. I crossed my arms, and sighed. "How's Blondie, by the way?"

"Vaike? He's fine. I think. No injuries, at least, and he hasn't broken down in tears or anything." He paused. "Not that… Vaike would really do that. But no extraneous bravado, or unusual quiet that I noticed. I'll talk with him later to be certain."

"Chrom, I understand that my twin is fascinating, but you can't off in the middle of a sentence to smile at her, and then ignore me," Robin suddenly deadpanned, waving his hand a little as we looked at him. "Yes, hi, still here, still trying to tell you my proposed tactic given what little we know." He gave us both the drollest look. "So. Focus. Now."

"Oh, now you focus," I teased, mostly to buy Chrom time to go from chagrin to 'work'. "I seem to recall-"

"I also recall getting scolded. So."

"So, I was pretty sure you were just about done," Chrom interrupted. He smiled slightly as Robin scowled. "You were telling me what you wanted me to do, and then likely Kestrel's marching orders, and we were among the last, right?"

"Oh, you two have the same orders," Robin replied. He let his scowl fall for a serious, yet thoughtful, look. "You two are paired up."



"I am a little curious as to why you keep pairing us up?" I asked slowly. I made sure to smile so that he knew I wasn't complaining. "I'd think you'd want to switch it up to try new things."

"Well, I'd prefer to actually keep you two with me, but that'll be a detriment as a tactician, friend, and brother," Robin answered easily. "So instead, I'm going with the next best thing of having my favorite people protect each other." He grinned, far too pleased with himself. "Besides, you two fight well together, and you spar often, meaning you're more in-sync. I'd be an idiot to pass up that sort of advantage, especially right now."

"Well, I can see the logic in that." I glanced at Chrom. "Guess you're going to be stuck with me for a while."

"You say that like I should be complaining," Chrom teased. His cheer fell quickly, though. "Robin, I want you to have a guard this time, though. This battle will be very… strange."

"We don't really have many to spare," Robin pointed out. "I promise to be careful, but I've given the orders and-"

"You didn't give Kellam his orders." He looked a little confused as both Robin and I stared at him. "Kellam. He's right over here." He pointed and, for a brief second, I just saw a suit of armor, set up in the middle of the snow for some reason. Then the armor moved and both Robin and I yelped. "He's very quiet, so sometimes I miss him as well, but he's been waving for a bit."

"H-how long has this… Kellam been with us?"

"I believe since we left? I didn't see him during the battle on the Northroad, but he was there shortly after." Chrom beckoned the suit of armor over, and only now did I actually see, and sense, a person actually in the armor. "Kellam, did you get a proper introduction to both of them?"

"I introduced myself at the Barracks, but I think Lady Kestrel came in after that," 'Kellam' answered. He had a very… forgettable face, with nondescript hair and eyes, and his voice was very easy to just… tune out, thanks to how monotone it was. "But it's all right. I've been told I'm easy to miss."

"I always feel bad about it, though," Chrom sighed. He smiled, though, as Robin and I just looked at each other in complete confusion. "But at least the Feroxi didn't see you either!"

"I've been calling your name and waving my arms for quite a while, and they didn't even so much as glance at me."

"You sound almost disappointed at that."

"Well… I'm glad to be seen finally."

"Is… is there a magic for this?" Robin whispered to me as Chrom and Kellam kept on talking. "Like my Insight?"

"Uh… actually, yes, I think so," I replied. It took a bit of thinking, but I did remember Mom saying something about a 'gift' that made it easy for someone to pass unnoticed without training. "I don't know the name. But, aside from the armor, he's rather unremarkable. Because of how average he looks, you couldn't pick him out in a crowd if you tried."

"That sounds mean." He made a face and I smiled slightly. "Well, I guess I'll just have to… give him orders and try not to miss him myself!"

This was just going to be a bizarre battle.

The snow was red. The stones were red. I'd always avoided fighting in the snow, and I had to say, I didn't think I was missing much.

"Quickly, break into the fort!" Robin shouted. While the mounted quad went to play bait on one side, the unmounted scaled the wall on the other side, both to catch the enemy in a pincer, and to try to find our two wayward messenger-Shepherds. While it worked very well at first, some archers caught sight of us and… well… Kellam's inability to be seen proved very useful for being a shield. "Damn, why do they have to be clever?"

"You don't survive living in a nation of warriors without knowing how to be brainy about your brawn," I snapped. I didn't really mean too; my nerves were just being rubbed raw by how many times an ambush nearly got one of us. "Stick close to me. I got separated from Chrom."

"How did that happen again?" Robin shifted so that he and I were back to back, glaring down some axe-users as they others rushed for the staircase up. "It was something about the door."

"Door is locked, and no one knows how to pick a lock, so we're brute forcing, which means the master of breaking things is up front."

"Ah, yes, that does make sense." Thunder magic crackled around him. "I'm getting low on pages. Ah well." He leaned back slightly, to nudge me. "If I strike twice, can you take the third trying to block us?"

"For you, dear brother, I'd even get the fourth." I flashed a grin over my shoulder and he laughed. "On the count of three?"

"Yeah." Both of us stilled. "One…"

Both of us moved on the 'silent' two, and no small part of me felt a little… happy about it. I'd just moved automatically, because that was how we used to do things . 'Count of three' was a little trick we used to throw off attackers, who wouldn't have their guards fully up. We always moved on 'two'. And he'd done so, even though he didn't have memories. Either he unconsciously remembered, or he had quickly adapted when he realized I'd been moving. Both thoughts made me happy.

I cut down the two blocking the path to the staircase easily, just as Robin finished electrocuting the two archers who'd been trying to shoot us. We shared a grin over our successful kills, and then bolted up the stairs as we heard a loud 'crash'; Chrom and whoever had been helping him had broken through.

The door led onto the top of the ramparts and it was already a mess of fighting, with the Feroxi trying to shove us off the damn wall. I almost jumped into the fray, but I caught a bit of movement just beyond the enemy, and thought saw a little bit of bloody green armor peeking out from behind a corner in the back right of this area. I hesitated for one brief moment before deciding to just screw everything and go investigate now. So, I raced forward, not paying attention to dropped guards or any sort of fighting and jumped at an approaching knight, using their head as a pivot point to flip over, and landed with a stumble behind them. Someone managed to get a cut across my back, but it wasn't enough to make me falter as I raced for where I saw the armor. Behind me, I thought I heard Blondie say something about 'teach just got tenure', so I assumed he dealt with the knight.

I almost looked, but I managed to find the alcove and swing around the corner. And then I froze, because the armor was Gre… was Stahl's, like I'd thought, but he was… really messed up. His armor was cracked, and blood was smeared across even the wall, to the point where I could actually see where he'd taken a bad hit, and then slowly crawled away from that spot.

"Is Lady Lissa nearby?" Miriel's voice made me realize she was here too, pressing her hands against the worst of Green's… of Stahl's… injuries. "The ignoramus has a skull of higher impermeability than even Vaike's," she continued, glowering slightly. Her glasses were cracked. "Her spear-"

"She's on her way," I whispered, interrupting. I hunted through my pack and pulled out a vulnerary and some bandages to pass to her. "Here. It'll… buy him a bit more time."

"You have my gratitude. My own stock deteriorated." She took them from me quickly, and that was when I noticed her hands were shaking. "He lost consciousness a few minutes ago. He said to-"

"If it's a last words thing, we're not letting him." I turned and held my sword in front of me, glaring as some Feroxi turned to face me. Sword users and axe users. I had this. "I'll guard you two. Promise."

"Can you handle so many?"

"It's not a lot." I narrowed my eyes and moved my feet slightly to firm up my stance. "And I'm rather skilled at countering, if I do say so myself. Just watch him."

She murmured some form of agreement, but I tuned her out to focus back on the fighting. I held perfectly still as one of the sword users burst ahead of their fellows, grinning sickly. Their eyes glinted with unabashed triumph as they saw me waiting, and not moving to attack. Then, just as they swung to attack, I brought my arm up and grit my teeth as I blocked the sword strike on my armored gloves. Their eyes widened briefly, but I retaliated quickly, catching them through the stomach thanks to the opening in their guard. They buckled and I kicked them to the side before ducking under an axe swing of another fighter and ramming my shoulder into their chest before decapitating them. Then I twisted so that an arrow hit my armored gloves instead of my chest, wincing a little as I felt the bruise.

Another arrow flew for that archer and landed a perfect eyeshot. I blinked slowly, and glanced over to see Virion proving he was the 'Archest of Archers' with how skillfully he landed crippling hits. "Die, with magnificence!" he cried, counter-sniping another archer. He then bowed dramatically and turned to me. "Dame Kestrel, do you know where our wayward companions are? Princess Lissa is close, but we fear sending her out in this madness with no direction!"

"Right behind me," I yelled back. I blocked another swordsman's attack and kicked them in the groin to knock them down before stabbing them through the back. "Tell her to hurry! Stahl's really messed up!"

"So I shall! Virion, away!" He raced off and I nearly lost my arm because I was too busy trying to figure out why the hell he'd say something like that.

I repaid the axe user by dis-arming them instead, grimacing as the injury to my shoulder protested. But I had no time to tend to it. Another axe user was running up, but his target was not me or the two behind me. Instead, it was Lissa, who was doing her best to duck and dodge as she ran over to me. So, I moved quickly and intercepted the axe user, catching his axe with both of my armored gloves. I grit my teeth as the impact rattled my teeth, and knew I'd have to repair the gloves after all these attacks. But they still held, and that was all that mattered to me, especially right now.

I threw them off of me, and smirked as their eyes widened. "You want to try praying?" I whispered before twisting and slicing them in two. My arms ached and my wrists twinged in pain, hinting I might've sprained something, but gods, it felt worth it when Lissa slid right under the falling body and made it to Stahl with her healing staff.

I turned to see who else I needed to fight… only to realize that there weren't really any left, at least around us. The sound of slightly distant fighting hinted the cavalry quad were still battling, but… not us here.

"You look like you need this." A canteen dangled into view, and I leaned my head back to see Chrom next to me. "You look exhausted," he murmured. I decided against pointing out that he looked just as bad, with dirt and blood smeared across his face. "Virion said you found them."

"Yes, I did," I whispered. I took the canteen and guzzled down the water. I ended up drinking a little fast and choked a little, coughing. "I need to remember to not do that."

"Drink water too fast?"

"I'm not used to nice clean water." I shook my head and looked up at him as I wiped my mouth. "Miriel is alive and conscious, and doesn't seem to be bleeding, but might be bruised. She didn't mention anything." I glanced back. "...Stahl's bad."

"Damn." He closed his eyes, and I knew he was blaming himself. "Damn them…" He shook his head and took a few deep breaths before sheathing his sword. "I'm going to talk to the leader."

"You're what." My eyes widened and I grabbed his arm to prevent him from leaving. "No way! This crazy lady almost killed you! Almost killed Stahl!"

"We need to stop this pointless fighting." He opened his eyes and looked at me. "If Stahl is really bad off, he'll need more than a healing staff."

"Yes, but…" I thought just killing the lady would solve the problem just as well. "You can't just…!"

A loud clanging cut me off, and we both turned to see a woman wearing heavy armor had jumped down from… I supposed it was a watchtower. "I am Raimi, guardian of this fort!" she boomed. Her voice echoed off the walls. "Let our battle sound out the truth of your words!"

"Freaking hell, she is loud and dramatic," I grumbled. I looked at Chrom. "You're seriously going to talk to her?"

"I have to try," Chrom whispered. He gave me a sad smile. "I…"


"Please." He rested a hand on mine, but made a point to not pull me off him, even though we both knew he could.

I stared at him for a long moment and sighed, finally letting go of his arm. "Go on." I thought it foolish, but it was important to him. "But wait for Robin, please. Let him set up some sort of cover."

"I will. Keep Stahl safe."

"I will." I glowered up at him. "And I swear, if you get injured, and make Lissa cry a second time…"

"Duly noted." He walked off, heading straight for Robin, and I sighed a bit. He was… so aggravating.

"Hey, what's with you two?" Blondie popped up out of nowhere and ducked as I automatically attacked. "Easy, it's me!" he yelped. I blinked slowly at him. "It's the Vaike."

"...Sorry, Blondie," I whispered. I decided to just sheathe my sword to lessen the chances of taking someone's head off. "Between who?"

"Hmm? Oh, right. You and Chrom buddy."

"Huh?" I gave him a confused look. "What do you mean, exactly?"

"I mean that you two are rather touchy close, and was curious."

"...We are?" I thought a bit, and supposed I had to admit that I did let my guard around him a bit. "Well, he seeks me out more than I seek him out. He's aware that Robin and I haven't exactly had the best of lives."

"Ooohh, it's him doing them 'I want you to have fun and be comfortable' thing. He did it with me too." Blondie shrugged. "He can be a bit oblivious to how much privilege he has, but he does do his best to help people in the slums. That's where I'm from, and where we met. He'd gone down because apparently the reports about conditions didn't match what he'd been hearing. Never let it be known who he was, even when my axe took a little dislikin' towards him." He nodded. "Yeah, makes sense now. Especially since you gotta deal with a brother who doesn't remember ya."

"Yes, I really needed to be reminded of that." I narrowed my eyes and then sighed. "Oh, whatever. Regardless, there's nothing."

"Well, there's friendship. That ain't nothin." He shrugged. "I'm going to make sure the area's clear."

"Please don't lose your axe." I smirked slightly as he groaned, and waved as he walked off. The smirk fell, though, when I tried to think about just… first Virion and now him. Was there something unusual about how we interacted with each other? I didn't really have a lot of interactions to compare, and I was rather grateful to Chrom, if only because Robin clearly adored him. I didn't think there was anything really 'odd', other than the general 'I am actually opening up to a person' thing. But it was a bit hard not to, when he made such an effort to make sure Robin and I were comfortable...

Before I could continue that line of thought, thunder crashed into the wall, and I jerked my head up to see that Robin was throwing magic at Raimi. Chrom charged through the thunderbolts, and I noticed he switched his direction every once in a while, likely so that Raimi couldn't find a spot where Robin wouldn't fire for fear of hurting Chrom.

Raimi, of course, tried to charge, but armored knights weren't well known for their ability to deal with magic well. So, instead, she threw a javelin at Robin, clipping his side, and picked up another lance to use against Chrom. Chrom, however, parried it, and then jumped back as Robin launched another thunder spell despite heavy bleeding. I winced as I noticed Raimi's arms and neck were blistering, from the heat of the thunder as it bounced through the armor.

However, she held her ground, breathing heavily. "This is nothing," she wheezed. She held her lance tightly enough to make it trembled. "I am a warrior of Ferox! I will not fall!"

"Can we stop with this pointless fighting already?" Chrom asked. He brought his sword down. "This is more than enough! Just lay down your arms, and I'll lay down mine, and-!"

"I heard the Crown Prince of Ylisse was a warrior like his father!" She scoffed, and didn't seem to notice as Chrom's face blanked and then turned very, very stony. "But here you are, begging for your life! There's no way you are-!"

"I'm begging for yours." Chrom's voice dropped to a quiet murmur, seething in anger and threats. "Yours and the soldiers' you command. Make your choice."

Her choice was to lunge, aiming right for his face. However, taking advantage of how weakened she was, Chrom caught the lance, blood dripping his arm as the bladed part bit into his palm. Then, with one quick movement, he twisted, and jerked the spear out of her grip, throwing it to the side. She tried to punch him, but he ducked down, and hooked his leg around hers to pull it out from under her. She fell with a loud clang, and tried to scramble up.

But Chrom brought up Falchion and leveled it at her face in a silent warning. He glared at her for a brief moment as she stared at him with wide-wide eyes. But then the glare softened for a look of careful calm. "If you surrender, we can have our healer tend to you and your people," he offered softly. The wind blew, making his cloak billow dramatically, and from my point of view, it almost looked like it was trying to shelter Raimi, even as he held the weapon at her face. "Will you?"

She was silent for a long, long moment, just staring. But then, finally, she whispered, "...Yes. Your strength is no falsehood." She bowed her head. "I… surrender."

"Then let's tend to your wounded, and ours." He sheathed Falchion and gave her his hand. She hesitated a moment before taking it, and he helped her up, supporting her as she stumbled. "Here, let me help you."

The battle slowly winded down after that, and the others quickly ran around to check on each other, and on Stahl and Miriel. I lingered back, watching Chrom help Raimi limp over to Lissa, and I couldn't help but smile slightly. Even if I was a bit annoyed that he managed to pull this off.

Not every enemy could be reasoned with. I knew that, better than anyone.

The Ylisseans were a little weirded out that, after we had tended to the injured and buried the dead, the Feroxi wanted to throw a party, but I didn't think it was that unusual. Feroxi had a mentality similar to most mercenaries: whatever happened on the job didn't affect what happened off the job.

"So, explain to me again just why there is a party?" Chrom asked, looking a little lost as the two of us leaned against the wall and watched the chaos. He also eyed his mug of ale warily, since it had been topped off five times already, without his permission. "I mean… um…"

"Feroxi believe that there are multiple levels of the heavens, and those who fall in battle, or die in childbirth, are granted access to the highest level," I answered. I refused all offers of alcohol and stuck to water. I could survive a gutting thanks to Grima, but Grima apparently had no head for alcohol because I really didn't. Then again, Robin did, so maybe that was just a sign of me not being a 'perfect Vessel'. "So, they are celebrating their comrades' ascension. They'll have the more somber funerals and the like later, when we outsiders are gone."

"But with this much alcohol?" He gestured to one of the two tables set up in the center of the room, filled with wines, ales, whiskeys, beer, and other alcohols I didn't recognize on sight. "There's more alcohol than food."

"Wine is totally a food. It's made from grapes." I gestured to the others, who, after a few drinks, happily joined in on the festivities. "Besides, aside from Virion, Frederick, and Lissa, the rest of them are too drunk to care."

"I'm not sure how much I like how right you are." He winced as the sound of something shattering rang out over the offkey bawdy song some people were singing. "Should I look?"

"No, Frederick ordered us to rest, remember?" I winced as more crashing sounds hit my ears. "Oh dear."

"I am banning alcohol for the Shepherds. Forever."

"I don't blame you." After all, it was absolute chaos and it wasn't just the Feroxi causing trouble. We were in the biggest room of the fortress, and the whole place was as lively, and loud, as any three taverns. We already had to stop a couple from drunkenly stripping down. And stop some fights. And remind people that no, they couldn't fly, no matter how high they jumped off from. "Rather surprised you're not drunk like the rest of them."

"I like the occasional drink, but I dislike the idea of not having entirely full control. Besides, considering what I break when sober…" He grinned at the little joke and I laughed. "Is Robin winning the drinking contest?"

"Robin could outdrink a god." I laughed again, however, when I realized just how much he was putting away. "I'm sure he's using this as a learning experience."

"I'm all for experience." He paused, and slumped slightly before glancing over at where Miriel was passed out. "Miriel isn't really one for drinking, so I'm wondering if she decided to experiment with 'drowning sorrows'."

"You know this wasn't your fault, right?"

"Logically, sure. Emotionally…" He sighed. "And all the people we killed. I can only pray it won't hurt negotiations."

"Well, she's going to escort us to the capital herself. If anything, I think this will help." I thought again of her explanation for why she'd attacked. "She said that Plegia had been masquerading as Ylisseans, but I…" I hesitated before deciding to just go for it. "I can't help but wonder if it was a double-trap."

"A double-trap?"

"Yes." I shook my head. "On the surface, it just appears like Plegia was trying to force tensions between Ylisse and Ferox, but according to Raimi, they had papers."

"...Now that you mention it, it seems strange that they'd keep papers marking them as Plegians on them for such an operation." Chrom sipped a little from his mug. "But if the intention was just to make them wary of any who came to the border, claiming to be Ylisseans…"

"She attacked you. She nearly killed you and yours, because of her doubts. You almost fell victim because of that paranoia. That's why I wonder if it was a double-trap." I looked up at him worriedly. "Though, regardless, you need to be more careful."

"Robin already gave me an earful for this." He groaned. "Same to Frederick."

"I think even Emmeryn heard Frederick's lecture, but that doesn't really matter. You are getting one from me as well." I frowned slightly. "Regardless of what you believe, Chrom, there are many who love you." I gestured to the Shepherds, all laughing and having fun. "They adore you. That's why they're here with you."

"No, they're good people who are willing to protect their homes. That is why they're here." He shook his head. "I'm just the one who makes sure they're nice and official, and get some gold for their services."

"Then let me ask you. Did you just do a little recruiting thing?" I tried to think of how things were in Plegia. "Did you put up posters?"

"Oh, gods!" He shuddered. "Frederick tried. He drew up a poster and everything! Emm and Lissa sprained their sides laughing at them."

"Was it that amusing?"

"It had me naked, and there was a 'Chrom Wants You' written on it to cover up any 'scandalous' bits."

"Well, now I wish there was a copy for me to see." I grinned as he groaned. "So, no recruitment posters."

"No." He shook his head, cheer fading. "No, I didn't want anything to remind the people of… the war. The drafts started with posters, before it turned to armed soldiers just rounding people up like animals." He drained his mug and tossed it onto a nearby table already overflowing with empty mugs. "No, I just… I asked Sully if she'd be interested at first. We're childhood friends, and she's one of the few friends I still have. She jumped on the idea instantly, and brought along Stahl. I asked Vaike after that, and he was just as eager. Frederick recruited Kellam. Lissa said she wanted help, and that brought Maribelle in. Miriel just showed up at the barracks one day and said something about how she found the idea intriguing." He shrugged. "It was just very… informal. The whole thing is, really."

"I see." I still thought that, at least for the early ones, it was because he had asked, but he seemed so completely certain he had nothing to do with it. "Well, why do you think they stay?"


"This is a group of very… varying individuals of strong personalities." As if to prove my point, Blondie started a playful brawl with Red that soon dragged half the room in it, while Frederick and Stahl, safely healed if out of the next couple of battles, tried to sort it out. "They're all quirky. Even Robin." Robin was actually cheering them on from the sidelines, eyes sharp as he paid attention to how they fought. "I'm certain that most of them wouldn't even think about being around the others on a normal basis. I'm certain that they get on each others' nerves a lot. But they all stay. Why do you think that is?" I looked up at him and smiled. "Personally, I think they stay because of you."

"Now you're flattering me."

"Not really. Your people love you. Trust me. I traveled through Ylisse. You're as loved as Emmeryn, easily." I grinned as I noticed he was starting to turn very, very red, all the way to his ears. "Embarrassed?"

"N-no, it's just the alcohol." He reached up to try and cover his face, but, again, he was blushing to the tips of his ears. "I'm going to stop the fight."

"Good luck." I laughed as he fled, smiling softly when I was quickly proven right. Chrom easily and efficiently managed to get the fighters to break it up, and got them involved in a drinking contest. It wasn't long at all before he was talking to them like they were old friends, with Red and Blondie on either side of him.

As I laughed, I thought I noticed eyes on me and turned to try and figure out who would be staring. I barely managed to catch Sumia's gaze before she turned quickly away, talking animatedly with Miriel about something, and I frowned a little, worried. I definitely felt like I was missing something, but I just couldn't figure out the piece, and since this was twice now, I was certain I wasn't imagining it… yet I couldn't...

"Kestrel!" Lissa popped in front of me and snatched my hands. "Come on! Dance with us!" she cheered, dragging me behind her and over to where a bunch of people had set up for some group dances.

At that point, I had my hands full because I was horrible at dancing, but I did keep it in mind. I'd ask Sumia about it… if I ever remembered.

Notes on Sully:

Class - Cavalier; Reclass - Myrmidon, Wyvern Rider

Sometimes called Red by Kestrel

The daughter of a Duke, and a proud knight of Ylisse, her birth name is Soiree, though she rarely answers to it. Brusque and aggressive, she focuses on training, refusing to rely on her family's reputation to earn her place. Her personality is very suited for Ferox, truthfully.

She fights with the Shepherds both because it is led by her childhood friend, Chrom, and because the Shepherds are not besieged by the sexism that apparently runs rampant in the main army.

An absolute horrible cook, and should not be allowed anywhere near food preparation. Ever. She managed to outdo Chrom in 'worst cooking disaster', and that is saying something.

Chapter Text

Interlude - Eastern Khan

We were attacked on the border. I am almost certain it was a trap by Plegia, but what sort, it's hard to say. But it almost killed Chrom and it did kill Feroxi soldiers. While I didn't think it would hurt negotiations, I wasn't sure if it wouldn't come back to bite us.

But, for now, we make our way towards towards Eclil, the Capital of Ferox with the oldest arena on the entire continent, with Raimi as our guide. We can only pray we find the help we need, but I somehow doubt it'll be easy. The gods hate me, and so, I'm certain they hate the others for being nice to me.

Based on how festive everything was, we had actually arrived at Ferox during its Founding Celebrations, punctuated by lots of drinking, plays, parties. It was one of my favorite holidays, truthfully. After all, the unofficial motto of Ferox was 'fight hard, party harder' and they were very much into making sure visitors felt welcome to join the festivities.

"So, if you like Ribald, then I was thinking you might like a few others," Sumia chattered, smiling brightly. We were outside the Eastern Manor, where Chrom and Robin would meet with the East Khan, and already it seemed like the Shepherds were infected by the cheer. "I could give you a few suggestions, if you'd like."

"That does sound fun," I replied, smiling slightly as Blondie and Stahl started playing with some kids who passed by. "I enjoyed the last recommendation."

"I love speculations of the heroes of shadow in the past!" She giggled, clapping her hands. Nearby, Miriel and Lissa read to some more children who ventured close, curious about the strangers. "I think it's so strange that we know so little about the bodyguards of the Hero-King and Last Empress."

"Well, to be fair, what do we really know about those two, or any of those from the War of Shadows, and the War of Heroes?" I laughed as some kids jumped on Frederick's back, nearly knocking him over, and Red encouraged them to jump over to her.

"That is a good point." Sumia giggled again. "Oh, we should just lounge around and read and…" She trailed off suddenly and turned a little red. "Ah, Captain! Did you need something?"

"Yeah, Kestrel." Chrom appeared next to me and snagged my arm. "I'm stealing her," he declared, dragging me behind him. "Sorry!"

"Do I have no say in this?" I yelped, twisting so that I could keep my feet under me. I glanced up and saw we were heading inside the manor, and Robin easily fell in step next to us. "Why am I coming along?"

"Ah, yes, whyever would I want to bring along the only Shepherd who has any sort of substantial knowledge of Ferox when I'm about to meet the Khan and beg for assistance?"

"Why do you have to make sense now? I had plans!"

"You were just going to sit around reading from what I overheard."

"I like reading!" I huffed a bit and pouted at Robin. "Did you agree to this?"

"Well, you are the most knowledgeable," Robin pointed out as we walked down the halls. He looked thoughtful. "Sumia seemed a little upset, though. I think she was really looking forward reading with Kestrel."

"We'll make it up to her," Chrom replied. We stopped in the middle of a large room and he turned to face me. "Raimi went to get the Khan, and while we were waiting, Robin and I realized we didn't know that much about Feroxi culture and ran to get you."

"Of course," I sighed. I looked down to his hand, still holding my arm. "So, you planning on letting go anytime soon?"

"Huh? Oh!" He dropped my arm abruptly and coughed, blushing slightly. "Sorry."

"It's fine." I shook my head and gave him a little frown. "You know; I do need my armored gloves fixed…"

"Done. Do you want them fixed or new ones made?"

"...You do know how expensive getting customized armor is, right?"

"You do know that I am a prince and have way too much personal funds, right?" He grinned as I rolled my eyes. "As Captain of the Shepherds, I am legally required to get a paycheck too, and also as prince, I am legally required to have a stipend. Half of it goes to some various charities, while I keep the rest to spoil friends and family. We're no Plegia, but Ylisse does have far too much coin."

"Why would Plegia be rich?" Robin asked, looking a little curious. "Given the stigma…"

"Plegia has a lot of gem mines, and their access to the sea gives them a lot of trading," Chrom explained. He sighed. "If we could just cooperate… but given what my father did, it would've been too much to ask, and now…" He shook his head. "Well, now, we're here to ask for aid, and waiting for the Khan."

"A warrior ruler, huh?" He smiled slightly, closing his eyes. "I can picture him now. A giant of a man of unparalleled thew…"

"Am I now?" A dry voice echoed through the hall, and a rather petite woman wearing a sleeveless shirt and loose pants walked in, absently pulling her hair into a ponytail. "Please, do go on," she continued, eyes narrowed slightly as she stopped in front of us. "I'm quite interested in this… picture."

"Hello, East-Khan Flavia," I replied, barely resisting the urge to facepalm as Chrom and Robin both squirmed. "Please, forgive my twin brother. He recently suffered a head injury that left him without memories and he is relearning things. Like basic manners."

"Oh, you, I like." Flavia's expression relaxed for a small smile. "You are?"

"Kestrel, a humble mercenary turned Shepherd." I gestured to Chrom, who had since recovered. "This is Prince Chrom, if the mark wasn't obvious."

"A very polite jab at Raimi." Her smile widened slightly and she nodded. "Welcome, Prince Chrom. I apologize for the border trouble. Know that you are always welcome in Regna Ferox."

"You are very kind, Khan Flavia," Chrom replied. He spoke slowly, and I knew he was picking his words with care. "But I am confident that we can put that incident behind us."

"Still, I do feel terribly about it," Flavia continued. Her eyes narrowed slightly again, and I had a bad feeling she was about to test us. "Please, allow us to compensate for the injuries you suffered." Yes. Yes, she was.

"There is no need for you to do that." Chrom glanced at me when I nudged his leg and nodded when I shook my head slightly. "However, I happily accept your generous offer."

"...I like you two." Flavia grinned. "I like you two indeed."

As she laughed to herself, Chrom leaned down to whisper in my ear, "You know; in Ylisse, refusing would've been polite."

"Yes, but in Ferox, refusing is saying that you are too good for help," I whispered back. I glanced over at Robin, and noticed he was just doing his best to remain hidden. "That's why."

"...No wonder Ferox doesn't like us most days." Chrom shook his head, and smiled at Flavia when she focused her attention back on us. "Regardless, what your soldier told us, your grace, troubles me. Your border villages?"

"Some were razed completely to the ground," Flavia replied. She crossed her arms and glowered at the ceiling. "Damn Plegian dogs. No survivors."

"Damn them," Chrom instantly growled. He paused, though, and coughed awkwardly. "Ah, forgive me. That was… ah…"

"Damn them! You should've shouted it." Flavia laughed again, relaxing. "Here in Ferox, we appreciate plain speech."

"Well, in that case, you need to tell your damn border guard to think twice when someone with the Mark of the Exalt shows us."

"Now that's Feroxi diplomacy!" Flavia grinned. "Yes, yes, I very much like you. Give your sister my thanks. Her last diplomat went far too much about propriety instead of adapting."

"In my sister's defense, Hierarch Nero is supposed to worry about propriety and the safety of Ylisse. It's part of his job." Chrom bowed. "Still, I apologize for whatever insults he threw at you."

"Oh, I stopped listening after he called me a barbarian. I figured he didn't quite say what Exalt Emmeryn wanted him to. You may thank your people's love for that, as I was sorely tempted to show him how barbaric I could get." Her tone chilled for a brief second to emphasize the threat before she shook her head. "Regardless, I think we've danced around the main topic. I know why you're here, Prince Chrom. These strange creatures have gnawed on quite a few of my people as well." Her expression became serious, and mournful. "But I cannot give you the aid you seek."

"Pardon?" Chrom looked startled. "Why not?"

"I am afraid that lack the authority."

"Well, that's new," I replied as Chrom tried to mask his surprise and disappointment. I tried not to flinch as her eyes sharpened and focused on me. "When I lived here, you were the Ruling Khan."

"Ah, you lived here once? A shame I didn't recruit you then," Flavia murmured. She shook her head, and sighed. "Sadly, Basilio fielded a skilled swordsman from Chon'sin during the last bout, and he destroyed my own champion."

"I see." I nodded and turned to Chrom. "Sorry. If I'd realized she wasn't the Ruling Khan, I would've warned you." I knew Chrom also didn't really know what I was talking about, but I didn't want her to know-know that so, instead, I turned to Robin.

He caught what I'd wanted instantly and stepped forward, looking confused. "Forgive me, but what is meant, exactly, by the 'Ruling Khan'?" he asked, smiling charmingly when Flavia turned her attention to him. "I'm afraid I haven't found any good books detailing Feroxi culture."

"Well, your first problem is trying to read about it," Flavia retorted. Her smile softened the words to 'teasing', and she nodded. "In Ferox, there is an East Khan and a West Khan, and every few years, a tournament is held to let war and gods decide who gains total sovereignty. And that means authority to officialize alliances, and aid."

"I see. So, what you're saying is that you cannot officially help us." Robin's eyes sharpened. "What about… unofficial aid? Can we include some of that in the 'compensation' you mentioned earlier?"

"...I like all three of you, and want to steal you all." She laughed, shaking her head. "Calm your conniving mind, though. The next tournament is nigh and, as luck would have it, I am still in need of champions. The one I had picked originally was injured by those creatures."

"We call them 'Risen'."

"I'll remember that. It's easier to remember." Her smile widened. "So, what about it? Raimi says you're skilled, but know how to hold back. That would make your perfect for the tournament."

"Would Ylisseans even be allowed?"

"Of course. I mentioned before that Basilio's last champion was a kid from Chon'sin. That's across the sea on the Valm continent." She crossed her arms and waited for Robin to nod before continuing. "The Khans don't fight directly, nor do they allow shield-siblings and kin to fight, as otherwise, we'd have issues with blood feuds and dead khans all over the place. Champions are chosen, and over time, it was decided to be much easier just to bring in outsiders. Many mercenaries will fight, in fact, to gain a name for themselves." She grinned suddenly. "Of course, it's never involved foreign royalty before, but there's no rule against it yet! But the choice is yours."

"There's not really a choice there," Chrom sighed. He frowned a bit and nodded to himself. "However, one moment please." He snagged my arm and dragged me to the side, leaving Robin to talk with Flavia alone. Before I could even yelp, he turned to me with a very, very serious look. "What is this tournament? What does it entail?"

"It involves seven rounds of combat," I answered after a moment. I closed my eyes, trying to remember. "The first six rounds are worth one point each, while the final round, fought by the Champions of the Khans, is worth six points. The Khan with the most points 'wins' and is the Ruling Khan until the next tournament, though for the life of me, I can't remember how many that is. I think it's four."

"Is it to the death?"

"It's to surrender or incapacitation. Mostly the latter since Feroxi rarely surrender. Healers are on hand to assist, so deaths are pretty rare."

"So, good idea? Bad?" He sighed, looking a little lost. "If it's fighting, I think… no, I know our group can win, but…"

"If we win, she's the Ruling Khan. If we lose, but put up a good showing, then Basilio himself will likely come to speak with us and, if not, I'm pretty damn certain Flavia will introduce you to him." I shook my head. "She's not suggesting this as an ultimatum, I think."

"No, I got the impression that she was suggesting this because it would be much more expedient, and legal." He nodded. "All right. So, good idea."

"I think it's our best one."

"Okay." He closed his eyes and sighed. "Emm is going to kill me."

"I'll protect you."

"Watch it. I might take you up on it." He laughed a bit and returned to Flavia, who looked at him expectedly. Apparently, she and Robin hadn't even pretended to have a conversation. "My apologies for making you wait."

"It's fine, Prince Chrom," Flavia replied easily. She looked at him with a calm, studying look. "What is your decision?"

"If serving as your champions is the quickest way to an alliance, Khan Flavia, then we shall take up our steel." He said the words firmly and clearly, and held himself with steely dignity. "My people are desperate, and I do not wish to see Ylisse crumple as it did under my father."

"Well spoken indeed." She smiled slowly. "Is it fair to warn you now that Basilio's champion this year is supposed to be a very skilled swordsman?"

"It doesn't matter. They, and all those who fight in this tournament, shall be defeated by our necessity."

"Well spoken again! If you're as skilled with words as you are with a blade, then there is no need to worry at all." She laughed softly. "I shall handle the necessary paperwork, and make sure there are rooms ready for you and yours to rest here for the night."

"Shall I assist?"

"No, today, you are simply guests of mine, and of Ferox." She smiled warmly. "So go, and enjoy the Founding Celebrations and all that it offers. I'm sure that with everything going on, you need to have a bit of good old fashion fun."

"I…" Chrom looked a bit confused, but Robin and I both nodded when he glanced at us, and so, he bowed to her. "Thank you. I think we will."

"Ah, there are so many…!" I couldn't help but gush over the tall piles of books at one of the book-stalls in the market. "Oh, I don't even know where to begin…" I whispered, peering at the different colored covers. "The printing press is definitely the best invention."

"I know, right?" Sumia laughed. She and I had decided to go shopping and after looking a bit at some dresses and weapons, we'd given to the inevitable and gone book shopping. "Oh, which one did you find?"

"This?" I held up the small book I'd already snagged. "It's a book of poems. I love poetry."

"Oh! There's this one over here that Maribelle has been trying to get me to read." Sumia plucked it from a pile and squeaked as the pile fell, and knocked over a bunch of other piles. "Oh…" She flinched as the proprietor gave her a dirty look. "S-sorry…"

"I'll take that book." I took it from her, and smiled at the proprietor. "Sorry, we're just super excited by all your wonderful books."

"What trouble are you two getting yourselves into?" Chrom and Robin walked up then, and Robin immediately went to help straighten out the books while Chrom came to us. "Are we going to have a duel over books again, Sumia?" he teased. Sumia just went red and ducked her head. "At least you didn't fall."

"Not yet, at least," Sumia mumbled. She turned a little redder. "We should probably just purchase the books and go…"

"In that case, I'll buy them for you." Chrom took the books from us and smiled. "One moment."

"Oh, Captain, you don't need to…!" Sumia chased after him as he walked over to the counter to buy the stuff. "I have pocket money…!"

"Oh, Captain, my Captain, you need to stop being so pushy," I deadpanned, following behind the two. "You already got me to agree to new gloves."

"You didn't put up much of a fight on that one," Chrom pointed out. He handed the books to the person at the counter, and looked curious. "Also, 'oh captain, my captain'?"

"It's a line from a poem, a favorite of mine." I paused, and grimaced. "Then again, saying that might be a bad omen. The whole reason they're crying for the captain is because he's dead."

"I'm not going to die anytime soon." Chrom purchased the books and passed them back to Sumia and me. "Now, time to escape before Robin gets sucked in."

"But Chrom, it's books…!" Robin instantly retorted as he came over, making his voice whiny. "Books!"

"Yes, yes, this way," Chrom laughed, slinging an arm around Robin's shoulders and dragging him away. Sumia and I glanced at each other, shrugged, and followed. "Didn't you get a bunch at the other stall?"

"One can never have too many books. You should read a few of them, though." Robin's eyes sparkled as he fished through his pack. "They're biographies of some great leaders of the past. Kings, queens, generals…"

"I'm not sure you should've bought so many that your pack now qualifies as a lethal weapon."

"Oh, thanks to the straps, it was technically a lethal weapon already." Robin said the words so cheerfully that even I did a doubletake. "Regardless…" His eyes became distant briefly and then he shook his head. "That was…" He paused and looked to me. "Kestrel, did we ever come here with people before?"

"With… people?" I asked, confused. I shook my head. "No, not since we were very little."

"Really? I swear that was…" He frowned a bit, and Chrom moved so that I could take his place at Robin's side. "It felt… like a memory, perhaps? You and me, with two others, walking through a festival…"

"Never happened."

"It must've been another longing dream, then, like before. The other two must've been some old friends or something that I'd forgotten." He shook his head, and smiled at me. "Do you have good memories of these festivals?"

"Actually, yes, I do." The yearly festival here in Ferox was the one time of the year even Mom had relaxed. I had loved that. "So…" I trailed off as I realized something. "Both Sumia and Chrom disappeared." I looked around, a little curious. "Did we lose them in the crowd?"

"Chrom mentioned wanting to buy Lissa a present, so I'm sure he went to do that. Sumia might've gone to help." He smiled shyly. "I remember telling Chrom that I'd hoped to spend some time with you too. It seems like a fun family activity."

"Silly." I laughed. "Well, there is one thing we always did when we visited in the past. Want to do that?"

"Yes!" His eyes sparkled. "What is it?"

"We always went to see the dancers on the stage." I pointed to the center of the square not far away. "Looks like there's a performance now."

"Let's go!" He took my hand and dragged me over, and I couldn't help but laugh as we pushed our way into the crowd to get a better view of the very pretty dancer twirling on the stage. Small bells clinked and chimed as she moved, providing her own background music that perfectly matched her dance. "Wow…"

"Yeah, this is why we always came to watch. Dancers are amazing." This one, though, was particularly skilled. "I wonder who she is."

"Her name is Olivia," one of the other spectators standing near us explained, a little girl with stars in her eyes as she watched. "She's the best dancer in all of Ferox! And on the continent! And she's basically like… a princess!"

"Is she?" I asked, a little curious. Ferox didn't really have 'princes and princesses' since all Khans were either hand picked successors or won through special tournaments.

"Yeah!" The girl nodded vigorously. "There's nothing official, but pretty much everyone knows that Khan Basilio dotes on her like a daughter! Lon'qu is basically his son too."


"Lon'qu was Khan Basilio's champion in the previous Championship, but for some reason, it's a random mercenary this time." The girl frowned, clearly put out about that. But then she was back to smiles. "He's a weirdo! But super skilled."

"I see." I smiled at her. "Thank you. My brother and I are travelers."

"Welcome to Ferox!" She reached into her pocket and handed me a very pretty necklace, a black cord with a red beaded pendant. "My mama makes these. They're for safe travels. She makes others too, but these ones, she likes giving away to visitors."

"Thank you." I made a mental note to find and visit the stall. "I'll treasure it." I slipped it on for good measure and the girl grinned. "Is it the shape that conveys the charm?"

"Both that and the colors. In Ferox, we wear red during war, so it's a symbol to death. 'I will fight back', and it encourages Death to help make sure nothing happens because Death doesn't like to fight." Her eyes lit up. "Oh! Olivia's finishing up!"

She did, with a beautiful, and rather awe-inspiring spin that went on for at least seven full turns before she sunk down into a bow. The crowd erupted into cheers, and she looked up with a small, relieved smile before bowing again and exiting the stage.

"Do you think we can go and thank her for the beautiful show?" Robin asked as the crowd began surging around us. His eyes were still sparkling. "It was so lovely! I can see why we had fun watching dancers in the past."

"Well, we can try," I replied. I glanced back and noticed the girl was already gone. "Looks like she exited this way."

"Right." Slowly, we pushed our way through the crowd, and I tucked the necklace under my collar to make sure it didn't snap off with all the jostling. But, before long, we made it to that side exit, and looked around, hoping to see if we could see her. A soft 'chime' caught my ear through the mess of sounds, and I turned to see her off in a corner… along with a very, very drunk man grabbing roughly at her arm. I nudged Robin and pointed, and his eyes narrowed dangerously as he realized what was going on too. We shared a nod and pushed our way through the crowd, heading for her.

"Let's have a bit of fun, okay?" one of them urged. His face was flushed and his eyes were glazed over. "You won't regret it…"

"P-please, leave me be…" Olivia whispered. She sounded much shyer than I would've thought, and kept trying to pull her arm out. "I just…"

"C'mon, you're clearing asking for something, dressed like that!"

"It's a dancer's outfit. I dance. I just got done, and would really…"

"I'm telling you to come with me!"

"Leave her alone," Robin growled, stepping between Olivia and the drunkard. He grabbed the man by the wrist and squeezed, easily twisting him off of her. "She said no. Surely you have at least as much intelligence as a dog to understand that word, yes?"

"The hell?!" the man yelped. He tried to jerk himself out of Robin's grip, but his coordination was shot thanks to the drunk. "Who do you think you are?"

"I should ask you the same. Who do you think you are to make such demands of anyone, especially when you're this drunk while the sun is still high in the sky." Robin shifted to stand a little more protectively in front of Olivia, and I slid to her side to gently take a look at her arm. She looked very bewildered, so I smiled reassuringly before checking the marks on her arm. Red, but it didn't look like they'd bruise. "Leave."

"Like hell!" He took a wild swing at Robin. "I saw her first!"

"She was literally just dancing." Robin sighed and leaned back to avoid the blow. "Did you also forget that I still have your other arm?" He twisted it behind the man's back, and put pressure on it to make the man kneel in the dirt or risk breaking his arm. "I wonder. Should I bring you to Flavia? I'm sure she'd love to meet a drunk man who tried to attack a dancer and one of her guests." He smiled as the man's face went pale. Clearly, bringing him to Flavia was definitely the worst thing we could do to the man. "Actually, that does sound like a good idea." Robin raised a hand and waved to a burly looking man nearby. "My pardon, but might I ask a favor?"

"Yeah, sure," he answered with a shrug, looking curious. He came over, and looked at our little group before nodding. "You want him to go to the guard or something?"

"I was thinking Flavia, actually. I don't much know the rules, but I'm a guest of hers, and from my understanding, the lady he attacked is a guest of Khan Basilio." Robin smiled sweetly and the drunkard actually whimpered. "So…"

"You are a very evil person." The man grinned and picked up the drunkard, slinging him over his shoulder. "We'll get him there. Easy."

"Thank you." Robin reached into his pocket and passed the man five gold pieces. "As my thanks."

"You know how to talk Feroxi!" The man laughed, and walked off, easily making his way through the crowd.

Robin laughed a bit, smiling, before turning to Olivia and me. "Is she alright?" he asked me, mostly because Olivia looked a little dazed. "I mean…"

"Red marks but no bruises," I answered. I made sure to smile again as Olivia looked between Robin and me. "I'm not sure mentally yet. I think we surprised her."

"Well, we did just appear from nowhere." Robin peered at her worriedly. "Do you need to go to a healer?"

"N-no, I'm fine!" Olivia finally yelped. "I…" She bowed quickly, the coins on her scarf and the bells in her hair clinking and chiming. "Th-thank you very much! I…" She sighed, whimpering a little. "I'm… oh, I knew I should've taken up Basilio's offer of a guard, but Lon'qu was the only one free and he hates crowds, and I don't think he likes me much and-"

"It was really no trouble, Miss Olivia," Robin replied. He smiled warmly as Olivia glanced up tentatively. "However, since you don't have a guard, might you allow either my sister or myself to escort you? Just in case?"

"I… well…"

"If it's only one of us, then you're a better option, Robin," I pointed out. I glanced around, and noticed the man was out of sight. "Guys tend to view only other guys as threats." I turned to smile at Olivia. "He's a sweetheart, and it's not just my twin-bias saying that. You'll be perfectly safe with him."

"Um…" Olivia stammered. She looked back to her feet, and sighed. "I'm sorry to be a bother."

"It's no bother." I stepped away from the two, and grinned. "Robin, I'll meet you later, okay?"

"All right, Kestrel," Robin replied. His smile saddened slightly, and I could tell it was because he wanted to spend more time with me. But, really, we couldn't let this girl walk back alone. "Then, let's head off, Miss Olivia. Do you want to borrow my coat? It's rather chilly."

"N-no, I'm fine, actually," Olivia yelped, even as she led Robin down the path. "I'm quite good with the cold. I used to sleep on the streets, you see…"

"That doesn't mean you're not cold now." The two of them devolved into what had to be the politest argument ever, and I darted back to the stalls to take a closer look at some of the things Robin had seemed interested in.

It used to be a lot of fun, surprising him with gifts, and I doubted that had changed.

It was just as fun, surprising him. It was equally fun being surprised, as Robin had also taken the opportunity to buy me a gift: my own copy of The Ribald Tales of the Faith War alongside a couple of other, more serious, books on the same topic. I giggled and squealed like I was five years old again, and laughed brightly as he gleefully thanks me for buying him some history and strategy books.

"So, here, this is the scene I was talking about," I explained, pointing to it in my own book. Sumia and I were sprawled out in our room, surrounded in an impromptu nest of pillows and blankets, showing and discussing our favorite scenes. "See, she's already figured it out, but doesn't trust herself because of how unlikely it is."

"Oh, that's what you meant," Sumia gasped. She laughed and flipped to a page in her own copy. "I was thinking this one, because the first one shows he's got close ties to the royal family, but this one more shows he's got knowledge of the past."

"Mmm, that is a good point." I nodded, giggling a bit. "Oh, but the scene where she gets the… is it 'Hero Sword' or 'Brave Sword' in your copy? I know earlier versions had the former."

"This is one of the first printings, so the first." She hummed a bit. "I wonder why they changed it?"

"Probably to make it easier for people to visualize what sort of weapon she got." I shook my head. "Regardless, that scene where she got it from… that other guy who I am blanking on at the moment."

"You are?!"

"Give me a break! There's how many names in this book?"

"But he gets some of the sexiest scenes in the book!"

"Really? I thought Ares and Lene were better."

"Oh? Why?"

"Well, they start off all cute, you know. Some cuddling, kissing, flirtatious banter…" I laughed as she started turning red. "You have to admit that's just adorable! And then it transitions into…"

"Yeah, point." She coughed, embarrassed, and hid her face in her pillow. "But it's not quite as descriptive."

"I like less description. Makes it easier to use my imagination~" I laughed again as she groaned, and her ears turned red. But it died a bit as I thought of the past two incidents where I'd been certain she was staring, but then looking away. I thought about asking, but ultimately decided against it. We were having so much fun that I'd hate to put a damper on it. "I think the author realized that as time went on. Feels a lot more natural and less 'insert thing here'."

"KESTREL!" Her face went so red that I thought steam would start billowing from her head. "Oh my gods!" She collapsed in laughter, and I soon joined in. Yes, we were having far too much fun for me to bring up that potential awkwardness.

"Wow, I could hear you guys from down the hall." The door opened and Lissa poked her head in. "Mind if we join in?" she asked cheerfully, skipping into the room with Red and Miriel trailing behind her. "I brought snacks!"

"Lissa insisted on a girls' night, for some reason," Red explained. She sat down on one of the pillows and set down a basket as Lissa closed the door behind them. "I thought what the hell, so, here we are."

"I thought it might be illuminating," Miriel added. She picked up Sumia's copy of Ribald and narrowed her eyes. "'And, so he approached her, like a panther, muscles rippling as he-"

"Is it that book?" Red roared with laughter as Sumia and Lissa squeaked. "Well, now, this is going to be a party. Go on! Let's find some of the scenes to read aloud!"

"If we're doing that, pick a better one!" I insisted, reaching over to flip the pages. "Here! Read this one aloud! I want to see how red Lissa and Sumia get!"

Miriel obliged, reading the saucy scenes in the most academic voice ever, and even she struggled to keep a straight face as we hit some of the naughtiest bits. Sumia and Lissa went redder than Sully's hair as we switched scenes and so past the night. Laughter echoed on and on, and for the first time, I found it… just nice. It wasn't scary. It wasn't unnerving. It was just fun.

Maybe I was actually getting used to the madness of my situation. I wasn't very certain that was a good thing, though.

Notes on Virion:

Class - Archer; Reclass - Wyvern, Mage

Once called 'Ruffles' by Kestrel

The exiled Duke of Rosanne, who fled his home in the hopes that his people would surrender and live, instead of fighting and dying.

Pompous, melodramatic, with an uncanny ability to actually back up his words. When it comes to his skills with archery, he's probably humble with his boasts, and he is shown to have at least some proficiency in every weapon save Dark Magic itself.

Flirtatious with women, and really gets around, but it's clear that he holds himself to a certain code, and is always careful to not tread into harassment, apologizing and correcting his behavior if he accidentally does so.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4) The Two Falchions

We're in Ferox proper, and through a series of strange coincidences, we're actually now the Champions of East-Khan Flavia, fighting in her name during one of Ferox's oldest, and most sacred, traditions: the Championship of Ruling. If we win, Flavia has promised aid to Ylisse, meaning everything will be most expedient if we win. But this will be several rounds of single combat, with no healer to assist until the battle is over.

I'm scared. I'm scared of letting everyone down. I don't like this sort of fear. I'm used to having nothing to lose.

Kellam, Virion, Sully, Blondie, Robin, Chrom, and me. After extensive talks between ourselves and Flavia, we were the ones chosen to fight. Stahl and Miriel were still recovering from the border fight, Sumia didn't have enough experience in proper combat, and Lissa had no ability to attack. Frederick was one who almost participated, but Flavia had actually requested that he'd act as one of the two 'peacekeepers', since it was traditional to have the not-Ruling Khan provide the peacekeeper for the fight, while the Ruling Khan provided the 'announcer'. Frederick had been hesitant, since things depended so heavily on how well we did in this, but had ultimately agreed to it.

The worst part was that the order had to be predetermined. Chrom was last, of course, as Flavia's Champion, but there was a lot of debate as to what order we'd fight in. We'd barely determined it prior to Flavia having to give the names, and descriptions. Something about having to 'prevent cheating' or… something. I didn't really know.

I sighed, closing my eyes as I tried to relax. I was incredibly nervous because I knew so much relied on this. We had to do a good showing. It was okay if we lost, so long as we showed we were strong. Feroxi admired and respected strength. If we put a good showing, if we showed them that we were strong… then we could get Ylisse the army it needed between the Risen and Plegia and…

It occurred to me then that I was far too involved with all of this, and that this anxiety was going to make me sick before the fighting. But I couldn't help but worry. I hated getting attached to things. I hated that the Ylisseans had been so kind, that the Shepherds had been so kind. Now I cared, and it made me shake because I knew what the consequences of failing would be.

"My dear, your lovely visage is paler than the moon itself." Virion slid to my side, and gave me a small, ornamental mug of tea. "Here, drink this," he urged, smiling gently. "It's a lovely lemon balm tea that I bought at the market at the recommendation of love lady."

"Did you now?" I asked dryly. Still, I took a sip and smiled. He'd added a touch of honey to it; I liked honey. "You seriously brewed tea right before a fight?"

"When better? I've already passed it out to the others." He gestured grandly to where most of the group was gathered around a table of our assigned 'waiting room', laughing at something Sully said while drinking what looked to be tea. I noticed, however, that I was the only one with a fancy teacup. "Lemon balm has always been a favorite of mine, you see. I find it wonderfully relaxing without causing drowsiness."

"It does taste nice." I leaned a little more against the wall, and cradled the cup to study the design. "You used this before."

"It's part of my favorite tea set, actually, one of the few things I brought with me from Rosanne. I couldn't bear to be parted from it; it was a gift from my younger sister."

"You have a younger sister?"

"...I had one." He closed his eyes briefly. "Her name was Cassandra. She was even more talented than myself, which I assure you, means quite a bit. Quiet most of the time, with a kind heart. A veritable genius when it came to anything involving thread." He tried to smile, but it looked pain. "When Walhart came to Rosanne, he devastated one of the border villages. Cassandra had been visiting, since the village was famous for its dyes. According to my scouts, there were no survivors."

"...I'm so sorry…" I looked at the teacup again, really looked at it. It was pale white, with a swirling design of the same color. I recognized the design as being a Valmese charm, the 'Winds of Peace'. It was rare for it to be on anything but cloth, though, so I had a feeling this was custom made. "Not even a body to bury?"

"My dearest friend and vassal, Cherche, tried to recover the body, but Walhart's archers and mages nearly took her from the sky, and thus, she returned empty handed." He shook his head. "If she had been still alive… I hope she wasn't. Walhart's brutality does not make me hopeful that he protects women from the… typical fate of the conquered."

I wished I could deny it. "Well, I hope whatever her fate, she got lucky." I sipped the tea, realizing why he came over, and even let me drink from what had to be a very precious item. I used that to change the subject. "You know I'm freaking out."

"My dear, it was obvious to the point that Robin was beginning to fret." His smile became a little more real. "Then lovely Sully distracted him with a story about how she killed some bandits in nothing but her smallclothes."

"And you came to cheer me up instead of listening to that?" I laughed a bit. "I'm honored."

"Well, as tantalizing as the mental image is, I thought your mental well-being took priority. As both a friend, and from a strategic point of view."

"Strategic?" I frowned a little before sighing. "Robin."

"Your twin brother adores you. Not even whatever hex robbed him of his memories could erase that. If anything, it strengthened those feelings, as he does not have anything else to drown it out. That's also why he bonds so quickly, and deeply, to so many of us." His smile took a distinctive teasing edge. "There is also our stalwart captain, our dashing Prince Chrom!"

"Are you going to try and tease me again about things I don't understand?"

"Well, that's always fun." Now he was grinning and I rolled my eyes. "Truly, though, this isn't meant to be entirely teasing. Our beloved captain frets over the wellbeing of all his subordinates. A good trait, but also one that can lead to a lack of focus." His grin faded slightly. "Regardless of what I think, none may deny that you and he are particularly close. You spar nightly, you help reassure him, and it is clear he relies on your knowledge to help bridge the gaps in his own. You are also the dear sister of his best friend. It is natural that he would worry more over you." He then gasped dramatically. "But all of that is besides the point. Why, my dear, you are so lovely and kind that I believe even a god would weep to see you so distressed."

I ended up choking on a bitter laugh, and coughed hard enough that the rest of the group crowded around, worried. Virion hovered over one shoulder while Chrom claimed the other and Robin knelt in front of me, taking the teacup from me to make sure I didn't drop it. The rest just… fretted, and I almost felt like crying again. The gods rather enjoyed seeing me 'distressed' given how my life has been. I was 'Grima', after all, and the gods made their feelings quite clear on him.

At around the time I stopped coughing, and reassured everyone that I'd just been startled by Virion's flowery language, someone knocked on the door quietly. The door opened with a soft click, and to my surprise, Olivia walked in, though she wore a more covering outfit today. "Um…" she began, noticing how we were all clustered in a corner. "Is everything alright?"

"Virion here just tried to kill me, no big deal," I instantly dismissed. I smiled, and the others relaxed, with Sully even nudging Virion. "Are you here to pick us up?"

"Yes, I'm the announcer this year, so I came to get you." She curtseyed. "My name is Olivia, a traveling dancer. I am pleased to see you two again, and to meet the rest of you."

"Thank you, Olivia," Chrom replied. He took a deep breath and looked each of us in the eye, smiling reassuringly at us all. "All right, everyone. Let's do our best, and win Ylisse the alliance."

We all cheered, though the words brought back my worries. I just… hoped things would be fine.

"Sully, you're amazing!" I cheered, caught up in the excitement as Sully ended her match very decisively. "Go ahead and hit him a second time!"

"She kicked him in the balls," Robin murmured. He, as well as the other boys, were squirming, and they winced as Sully glanced back, flashed me a grin, and took my suggestion, kicking her fallen opponent in the nuts again. The crowd went wild. "Well, they clearly have a favorite."

"Kellam did a good job winning the crowd too." Despite being up against a mage, Kellam managed to tie in a last second strike before collapsing. The walls had trembled at the crowd's cheers. "We're doing rather well."

"We are indeed." I giggled and, on impulse, held up both my hands towards Sully as she left the arena proper and entered the side-room where we waited, and watched the fights. "Awesome~!"

"Damn straight!" Sully laughed. She gave me twin-high-fives, grinning as the 'clap' echoed a bit. My hands stung, but I felt giddy anyway. "Oh, that felt amazing! This is a good way to beat out frustration!"

"I am reminded of why your father has given up trying to arrange a 'favorable marriage' for you," Chrom deadpanned. He laughed as Sully instantly groaned. "Your little brother and sister love it, though."

"Well, she's a nice proper noble girl, and he's just adorable." Sully grimaced, rolling her shoulders. "Ah, damn it, I hate it when the rush fades and all that shit."

"Off to Lissa for you. Just in case."

"Where is she again?"

"There's helpful servants to lead you to her special booth and make sure you thank them properly."

"Chrom, you're a little shit sometimes." She rolled her eyes and Chrom laughed. "Whatever. I'll be cheering!" She walked off, and I winced as a noticeable limp appeared in her step. She definitely pulled something, but that wasn't a surprise. She was used to fighting on horseback which wasn't allowed here for obvious reasons.

"Ah, what glory it is to see the red victory claim her prize!" Virion noted lightly. He flipped his hair over his shoulder as he headed towards the arena proper. "Now, watch as the Archest of Archers duplicates her most magnificent feat!"

"Be careful, Virion," Robin called. He grinned teasingly. "This isn't a flirtation contest."

"Of course not! Flirtation is an artform!" Virion scoffed, rolling his eyes dramatically. "Well, I best be off! Adieu~!"

"...What does 'ahew' mean?" Robin looked confused and nudged my side as the crowd cheered in the arena proper. Virion's match had likely begun. "Kestrel?"

"It's 'adieu'," I corrected, laughing a little. "It's Rosannean for 'farewell'."


"A country across the sea, in Valm." I glanced at Chrom then, who nodded. I'd given him Virion's warning shortly before we'd hit the border, and he'd gotten a message back to Emmeryn thanks to Frederick. "Virion's from there. That's why he has an unusual accent compared to the rest of the Shepherds."

"Oooohhh, that makes sense." Robin nodded, smiling slightly. "So, the language we speak is…?"

"We're speaking Trade Tongue, also called 'Common'. Most countries technically have their own language, but as time went on, Common became more 'common', and now, most of the unique-to-country languages are simply called Old 'insert country here'. There's some scholars that trace the linguistic history of words to show how Common is really a nice little hodgepodge of borrowed words."

"But only the scholars and nobility actually know the old languages." Robin sighed, drooping a little. "That's a shame."

"Υπάρχουν βιβλία στο κάστρο," Chrom replied. Both Robin and I gave him an incredulous look. "Old Ylissean. I'm required to be fluent in it as the Crown Prince. I'll show you where the books are when we get back."

"I can't imagine you sitting patiently learning a language no one uses," Robin deadpanned. I laughed as Chrom sulked a bit. "I really can't."

"Like I said, required. Formal ceremonies, like the First Exalt Feast, have the traditional oaths and the like spoken in that language, since that is the language the First Exalt spoke primarily. Meaning if I didn't know, it would all fall on Emmeryn and she really would never get rest."

"I still find it hard to believe." He snickered as Chrom's sulk deepened, but it ended abruptly when he tilted his head. "Vaike? Can you check the front? The cheering stopped."

"I'm the only one watching while you three are the ones chatting," Blondie pointed out. He was leaning against the wall right by the entrance to the arena proper and jerked his thumb towards the fight. "Bastard set down a damn mine thing or something. Miracle Virion didn't lose his leg entirely."

"A mine?" I repeated, startled. I'd heard about them, but I never expected to see one. "You're kidding."

"Wish I was. Don't know how it was made, but it was flashy."

"I'm sure Miriel can make one. It's chemistry and alchemy." I said the words absently before it all clicked. "Oh, hell, Virion!"

The three us ran towards the entrance, to try and get a visual of what was going on. Robin and I both snagged Chrom as we realized Virion was on his knees, with his opponent, an axe user, leaning threateningly over Virion. They smirked, seemingly perfectly pleased, completely unaware or uncaring that the crowd's silence showed all the disapproval in the world. Virion had this won by default, but it seemed like the axe user just wanted to kill someone today. But as they brought up their axe for a killing blow, their eyes widened suddenly and they paled. Their axe fell from their hand as they started to slump and cough up blood. Virion slowly rose, catching them before they fell, and that's when it became very clear that Virion had gone into this battle with more than one weapon. He'd had a dagger hidden somewhere, and he'd pulled it out when his opponent had dropped his guard.

He ripped the dagger out of his enemy's gut, twirled the blade around his fingers to sling the blood off, and caught his opponent before he fell. Two seconds later, Olivia made the ruling: "the winner is Virion of the East!"

At first, the crowd seemed a little uncertain of whether to cheer for Virion's victory or not. However, when they saw him helping his opponent out, they started cheering, crescendoing into a roar of approval.

When Virion made his way back, he bowed to Chrom, and actually looked a bit apologetic. "I had hoped to simply win with my bow skills," he murmured, bowing his head. He paid no mind at all to his bleeding leg. "Not resort to hidden weapons as I did."

"I'm not going to scold someone for how they win a fight, Virion," Chrom replied. He smiled reassuringly. "You're alive and well. That's what I care about. Honor is great, and yes, I prefer it, but I'd rather hear you apologize than apologize to your corpse."

"Ah, it is so wondrous to hear your flexibility, and your forgiveness." Virion smiled back. "It seems that helping my opponent managed to win their favor back."

"The Feroxi don't necessarily like hidden weapon tricks, even if they do like ruthless tactics," I explained. I laughed a bit. "But they also don't like mines, and so, when they saw that the gods didn't smite you, they must've decided that the tactic was was the gods' revenge for the mine." I shrugged. "Besides, I like the message it sends. It shows that Ylisse is ready to strike back, even when all appears lost."

"Ah, such beautiful wit!" Virion gasped. He bowed again, this time a little more dramatically. "My dear, you have charmed my heart once more."

"Clearly, a talent of mine, charming people." I pointed to his leg. "You need help?"

"I'll handle that," Blondie volunteered. He nodded to Robin. "He's next after all. You should be here for him."

I hesitated, but sighed, nodding. Blondie took Virion off, while Chrom and I hovered near the entrance and Robin took his place in the field, opposite a sword wielder. Olivia called for the match to begin, and Robin threw three thunder spells instantly to start it off.

It was a very fast paced match, truly. Both were dodgy and fast, meaning that few attacks actually hit. They ran around and around the tiled floors of the arena. Little spots of black showcased missed missed thunder spells. Little chips showed where sword strikes had missed. I found myself shaking as the battle went on, knowing that Robin's stamina had never been that good, and there was also a little… a bad feeling forming in my stomach. Robin's spells started taking a slight purple-red tinge, and a flicker of flames at his hands hinted that Grima's power was seeping through. I wondered if the people would figure it out. I wondered if they'd hate us, kill us, for our blood.

I covered my mouth in horror as Robin took the blow to his side, and I actually screamed when he twisted and grabbed his opponent's arm to hold the blade there.

"Checkmate," Robin said with a calm that did not suit the situation. He reached up and launched a thunder spell directly at his opponent's face. His opponent shrieked, stumbling back, and Robin got two more attacks in, taking advantage of the dropped guard. He held himself stoically, and I shook as I noticed something that flat-out terrified me: one of his eyes had turned a deep red.

When he brought his hand up for a third attack, I opened my mouth to scream something, but then covered my mouth again to stop myself from interfering. But he seemed to 'hear' me anyway, as he paused and turned back to look at me. I shook my head subtly, and for a brief moment, he looked confused. But then he blinked and his eye turned back to the normal brown. He brought down his hand down, and slumped slightly.

Without the force of the attacks, his opponent hit the ground hard, and didn't move. Olivia called a halt to the match right then and there, and healers jumped onto the field, including Lissa. For a second, I was almost certain Robin had killed them. But then the healers brought up their healing staves and, working together, managed to get the person to actually regain consciousness enough to groan. About a second after that, Robin buckled, and was helped off the field by Lissa and another healer.

I was shaking badly, wondering both what just happened and how the hell I was going to explain anything. Chrom came over and rested a hand on my back, whispering something I didn't process, though I was certain it was reassuring. That was the kind of person he was. I only calmed, though, when Blondie laughed, and even then, it was because I really couldn't stand his stupid voice right now.

"Well, our tactician certainly proves that the Vaike is in good company!" he boasted. His smile faltered when I glared at him. "What? It's a compliment."

"Just get ready for your own fight," I muttered. I had no intentions of getting into an argument right now, when my stomach was in knots. "You're up."

"Yeah, yeah, don't get your panties in a wad." He sighed. "Really, you should smile more. It's a waste of your pretty face."

"Quick tip? It's pretty rare for a girl to take 'waste of your pretty face' as a compliment, and to take 'you should smile more' as anything but a sense of entitlement." I growled and shoved him towards the arena proper. "Just go on!"

"He was trying to cheer you up," Chrom pointed out. He peered at me worriedly. "I do promise that."

"He succeeded in simply pissing me off," I grumbled. I sighed, though, and slowly relaxed. "I'll apologize later." The roar of the crowd was tinged with a loud sense of pride suddenly, and I jerked my head up to see Blondie's opponent was, of all things, a sword user and one clearly loved by the crowd. "Oh hell."

"Vaike's bad with sword users." Chrom's eyes narrowed. "And this one is known…"

"I'm willing to bet anything that this is Lon'qu, the previous champion." I was back to feeling ill. We'd expected Basilio to field Lon'qu in the rounds, but we'd expected him to be the last one before the main event, to build up hype for the final round. That was why I had been placed the last one before Chrom. "Oh hell. This is going to be bad.

And it was. From the beginning, Lon'qu had control of the fight. Technically, Blondie was stronger, but he just could not get a good hit in. But Lon'qu got many good hits in, and at one point, actually scored a deep hit across Blondie's back, and Blondie actually screamed in pain and I had to check myself from going out.

"Vaike!" Chrom, however, automatically took a step forward. "Hang-!" he tried to say, but I snagged him before he could get out too far. When he turned to me, I shook my head. "But…!"

"You can't interfere." I shifted so that I was holding onto him a little more firmly. He was stronger than me, so I had to take advantage of leverage points to make sure he couldn't break free. "You just… can't. You can't interfere. To the Feroxi, these matches are sacred. You wouldn't run into the middle of a ceremony in a church, would you?"

"I would if there was a risk of my friend…!"

"And if it risks winning the alliance?" I waited, but he only stared, looking a little lost. "That's how important this is to the Feroxi, Chrom. If you rush in, if you interfere… you could risk winning us the Alliance, even if we do win. Because, to them, it is disrespecting the gods."

"I…" He flinched as Blondie took another bad hit. "But…"

"..." I hesitated before pulling him into a hug, and hiding his face in my shoulder. "Close your eyes. Close your eyes, and pray, Chrom. I'll let you go when we're cleared to get him."

"And if he dies?" He sounded almost fragile. "I…"

"Blondie doesn't even know how to not misplace his axe. Do you really think he knows how to die?" I winced as I glanced over and saw Blondie take a third bad hit. "I'll let you go when we can go in. I'll come with you."

He didn't answer, just brought one arm up to cling to my back. He flinched as each time the crowd cheered, and I held him still each time he made to break free.

I watched as Blondie tried, desperately, to keep on fighting, despite the blood. He even managed, despite all the odds, to land a clear hit on Lon'qu, right on his leg, in fact. But that was it. Blondie collapsed, face first, struggled to push himself up, and then fell again.

Two seconds later, Olivia's voice rang out, "the winner is Lon'qu of the West." Half a second after that, Chrom and I were bolting for Blondie, sliding in the dust as we worked on getting him up.

Blondie groaned, and weakly lifted his head as we pushed him up on Chrom's back. "Sorry, Chrom…" he mumbled. "Guess Vaike the Mighty…"

"Don't you dare finish that sentence," Chrom hissed. He shifted Blondie a little higher on his back, and I picked up his fallen axe to follow them back to our preparations room. "You did well, especially against an opponent like that."


"Not another word, Vaike. You're one of my best fighters. You just had a really mismatched fight. I expect you to be boasting by tomorrow."

"Ha… idiot…" Blondie slumped then, and for a split second, I thought he was dead. I actually grabbed his wrist to check his pulse and, while it was weaker, it was still there.

When we returned to the side room, to our surprise, Robin was there, with Raimi. "She'll take Vaike to Lissa," Robin explained, ignoring our shocked yelps. "Lissa wanted to send people out, but you two got him first, so she came here."

"Robin, what are you doing here?" Chrom demanded, even as he let Raimi take Vaike from him. "You're…!"

"I saw Vaike's injuries and determined that mine can wait. I'm all bandaged, and it's mostly a surface wound." He lifted up his shirt to show off the pristine bandage. "I'll be fine. Besides, I have questions for my dear twin after her match."

"...Right, it's my turn," I whispered. I wasn't looking forward to this, but I managed a smile. "Well, I guess I'd better head on in." I turned away, and started for the arena proper.

But Chrom snagged my arm to stop me. He hesitated, leaving me confused, before sliding his hand down to mine and squeezing it. "Be careful," he whispered. "Please, be careful."

"I always am." I mentally debated before bringing up our clasped hands and resting my other hand on it, so that I was holding his with both of mine. " Iuro enim tibi per ipsos deos quam victoria extraham te." My words tongue burned a bit as I murmured the Old Plegian, my blood pulsing briefly in anticipation. The only curses I knew were whispered in this language, and it longed for me to use that dark magic. But this was simply my prayer, and promise to him.

"...I have absolutely no idea what you said." Still, he smiled. "And yet, I feel reassured. How strange."

"People feel reassured by things they don't understand all the time. Why do you think people listen to long-winded sermons?" I grinned as he actually laughed. "Okay, I'm off."

"Luck to you." He held onto my hand still, though, so I ended up having to be the one pulling away. As I did, his touch lingered slightly, and I knew he was afraid. He did not like seeing everyone get injured, and we were coming off a pretty devastating loss.

But I also knew he believed in me, and I knew Robin believed in me. That was all the reassurance I needed right now to step out into the arena proper with my head held high. The crowd cheered, and everything held still as we waited for Olivia to give the starting word.

"Begin!" She'd barely gotten the word out before I lunged forward, and my opponent, a lance wielder wearing light armor, did the same.

We both struck, and I had to duck as they spun to go for a second strike. I shoulder-checked them in the chest and tried to hit them with an overhead slash, but they sidestepped it easily, aiming for my back. I skipped out of the way, for lack of a better term, and swung again. They blocked it and shoved my arm back, before spinning their spear again. I flinched as the shaft of the spear hit my wrist hard, hard enough to make me instinctively relax it, and drop my weapon. They kicked it, sending it spinning across the ground, and then lunged, clearly intending to end the fight right there. I ducked under the spear, though, and came up swinging, landing a good hit to their face. As they stumbled back, I snagged their arm and tried to twist it behind their back to force a kneel. Unfortunately, they went with the movement, lessening the force, so I only managed to get them to drop their lance, which I… tried to grab, but I ended up not grabbing it properly, so when I had to dodge a kick, I ended up just losing my grip, and the kick sent the lance flying away. The two of us just stared at each for a long moment before settling into stances, deciding simultaneously that settling this with martial arts was much more preferable than trying to retrieve our weapons.

I let them strike first, though. It made things a little easier to set up.

I dodged. A lot. They favored punches, which I blocked as often as I could, feeling the bruises form even through my new gloves. But, mostly, I feinted. A lot. I liked how it made my opponents angry, and they always expended more energy trying to anticipate whether I would feint or launch an actual attack. Their guards always became sloppy as they tried to guess 'when' and each feint made them more and more certain that I'd never land an actual attack. But, as the fight wore on, around the time where my muscles ached even through the adrenaline rush, I saw the opening I needed. I faked a roundhouse, and they immediately raised a messy block for it, already thinking of where to hit next.

They didn't notice my heel was high over his head until it was too late.

I landed the axe kick on their shoulder, grinning as I felt the familiar 'pop' of dislocating someone's shoulder. As they dropped from the pain, I used the forward momentum I had to slam my fist into their face, feeling their nose 'crunch' under my knuckles as it broke and the blood gushed everywhere. That opened them up for an uppercut to the gut, knocking the wind clear out of them and destroying whatever semblance of a guard they still had. Then I pivoted on my now-front-foot, hitting them in the side with a spinning-hook-kick to knock them flat on the ground, right on the injured shoulder.

There was a very brief bit of silence, and then the crowd thundered their approval. When I glanced up, I saw many had actually jumped to their feet, clapping and cheering loud enough that my ears rung.

It was to that lovely 'music' that I waited for someone to pick up my opponent and return to 'entry-waiting-place' thing that I was too tired to remember the proper name of. As soon as I passed out of sight of the crowd, Chrom actually caught me up in a hug, swinging me off my feet with a laugh. "You gave me a damn heart attack," he laughed, clearly not bothered. He set me back on my feet and gave me a strange look that combined 'worry' and 'elation'. "You okay? You should get to Lissa?"

"I'm fine," I mumbled. I was tired, and feeling a little strained, but mostly, I felt… both pleased and embarrassed. "I'll stick here with Robin to watch you fight."

"Are you sure?"

"Hell yes." I grinned and he sighed. "Get ready. It's all you now."

"Yeah." He smiled. "I've got this."

"Luck!" I waved at him with both hands as he headed for the entrance, and he laughed before turning away.

Robin caught me in a hug then, squeezing me slightly. "Gods, I thought my heart stopped when they disarmed you," he murmured. He was smiling, though, when he pulled away. "But you did it. Solid victory, right before the main event."

"Maybe, but it's up to Chrom now," I pointed out. I turned as I heard the crowd cheer, and I saw Chrom walking out, cape billowing in the wind. "I hope it'll work out."

"He won't lose." Robin sounded perfectly certain of that. "Not with all of us cheering him on."

"The world isn't like that. Plenty of people are cheering for the West Khan's side too."

"But our bonds make us strong." He grinned, and I gave him the most incredulous look. "What?"

"That has to be the cheesiest thing I've ever heard and I cannot believe you said it with a straight face." I paused as I realized Olivia was giving a longer speech this time, and started focusing on her.

But Robin caught my arm, and I knew very well that he would not be distracted. "Why did that happen?" he whispered, ducking his head. "You look terrified."

"That was just because I had almost interfered." The lie came easily, and I wasn't sure how much I liked that. I never used to lie to him. "That would've been bad."

"But why did I feel…?" He visibly groped for words before shrugging. "Why?"

"...You and I… are of…" It was hard to whisper the words. "A cursed bloodline. That's why our father… tried to use you for a ritual…" I sighed, whimpering. "I'm sorry. I know I owe you explanations. But I'm so damn-"

"Grima." He said the name so easily that I gave him a look. "We're of a bloodline that is related in some way to Grima. And that's why you're afraid, because we're surrounded by Ylisseans."

"...That's correct enough." It was more because he and I technically were Grima, but… "How did you…?"

"I'd been suspecting something. You would become scared and…" He brought up his right hand and pulled off his glove to reveal his Brand. "I mean; I have this. It's so similar to the Mark of the Exalt that I wondered if it was opposite. You have one too, right?"

"...Yes." But it wasn't… exactly… the same. The Mark of the Exalt just showed a 'lofty lineage'. The Brand of the Fell Dragon marked Vessels. "That's… all. That's why. I think."

"You think?"

"I've never seen you get to the point where an eye literally turned a different color before." It was said that Grima's eyes were as red as freshly spilled blood. But there was no ritual here. Why had his eye changed? "I don't know why that happened. And there's no one we can ask."

"I doubt Chrom and Exalt Emmeryn would turn on-"

"Their people will." I looked right at him. "They have already. People do not like Plegians. I don't… want to put that awkwardness on them." I was also just so, so scared that they really would turn on us. I couldn't bear it. I couldn't bear having all this kindness and then have it taken away.
"I don't quite agree, but, then again, I have no memories." He looked up then. "It's starting."

"It is." I reached down and gripped Robin's hand as we both headed towards the edge to watch Chrom battle Basilio's champion… "That's Marth!" My eyes widened when I caught sight of his sword. "How… does he have a second Falchion?" It… had to be just a replica. It had to be. There was only one Falchion in the world. That was the whole point of sacred weapons.

If Robin replied, I didn't hear it. Chrom and Marth started dueling, and all my attention was held completely by how they fought… the exact same. It was like Chrom was sparring against a mirror or clone or… something. It was… unnerving.

However, it soon became apparent that it wasn't a 'perfect' mirror. Marth might have the same fighting style, but he did not have Chrom's strength. Marth might be able to dodge, but the blows Chrom did land clearly did quite a bit of damage. At one point, in fact, Marth stumbled back from a blow and, for some reason, looked over his shoulder. For some reason, I thought… I thought he was looking right at me. Then he stiffened at something, and then was almost knocked clear off his feet by Chrom, who was definitely not pausing the fight just because Marth was looking at something else.

"What a strange fight," Robin whispered. He leaned against the wall, eyes narrowed. "Their fighting styles are similar, which makes the differences much more prevalent…"

"If you say so," I murmured. I didn't like that thought. Chrom was mostly self-taught, purposely avoiding the 'proper fighting form' with the Falchion. Why would a random mercenary have a similar fighting style? "I don't like this. I feel like something is going on."

"Yeah…" He winced suddenly, a hand flying to his temple. "Ugh…"


"I'm fine. Just… a sudden headache." He frowned, eyes narrowed. "Kestrel, sister…"

"Yes, I am your sister. Are you losing your memory again?"

"No, I hope not." He shook his head. "Are you certain I can't see the future?"

"You've never had it in the past, at least." I peered up at him worriedly. "Why?"

"Just… nothing." He sighed heavily, rubbing his temple. "I lost it, damn it. There was something, but…"

"Next time, babble it out and then ask questions."

"Good plan." His eyes lit up suddenly and he pointed dramatically. "There!"

I jerked my attention back to the duel, and saw Chrom had blocked Marth's attack and shifted, holding the two blades against each other. With a start, I realized that he'd caught the Marth's sword close to the hilt and lifted it slightly before stepping into the blade lock to unbalance Marth. Then, he twisted, and flipped Marth onto his back. Exactly as I had done, during one of our sparring sessions.

When Marth tried to stand, Chrom aimed the point of Falchion at his neck. Marth seemed resigned and stayed down, accepting the loss.

"The winner if Chrom, Champion of East-Khan Flavia!" Olivia's voice was hard to hear through the pleased roaring of the crowd. "So, with a total of ten-and-a-half points, the gods have shown their favor to East-Khan Flavia, and she shall be the Ruling Khan until the next Championship!"

Chrom stepped back, and helped Marth up. Then he raised his hand and waved to the crowd, who just ate up the friendly little gesture, cheering somehow becoming even louder.

Robin and I clapped along with them, with Robin giving me an 'I told you so' look. I playfully kicked his shin, but ultimately didn't care.

We did it. We won, won well, and no one had died. That was what mattered.

Chrom had tried three times, three times, to leave the arena, only for the crowd to demand his return so that they could bask in his victory longer. After the fourth time, Robin and I snagged Chrom and just walked out of the side-room before he caved and went back. At about that point, Lissa appeared and snagged Robin for healing, and Chrom and I made our way to the waiting room to, well… wait for everyone.

"Why didn't Lissa grab you again?" Chrom asked as we sprawled out on the table, both exhausted suddenly. "I mean; you didn't get checked."

"I threw Robin to the wolf, I mean Lissa," I deadpanned. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the feel of the cool wood against my cheek. "And I didn't receive a lot of slashing damage, just bruisings."

"I'm too tired to even argue." He groaned, and I heard his head hit the table. "Gods, what is with Marth?"

"No clue. But that has to just be a replica."

"Yes, logically, and yet…" He sighed heavily. "Whatever. Don't care. Not right now, anyway." He groaned again as we both heard footsteps. "Do I need to get up?"

"Sadly, I think we both do." I whimpered as I pushed myself up, and he did the same. "If it's fans, though, I'm throwing them out."


"You're a Champion of Ferox, now. You're going to have fans."

"...Damn." His head dropped, but he straightened as someone knocked on the door. "Come in!"

"Well fought!" Flavia walked in with a bright laugh, clapping and smiling. "You have my respect for the brilliant fights," she declared, reaching out to Chrom. He automatically copied her, and found himself dragged into a handshake-hug. "And, more to the point, you have your alliance." She stepped out of the hug, but held onto his hand to give it another firm shake. "I will provide Ylisse with the soldiers you need. We'll discuss the actual details later, once Exalt Emmeryn knows."

"Truly?" Chrom replied. He smiled warmly, his exhaustion fading in light of the good news. "Thank you. I appreciate it."

"No, thank you. It feels like it has been ages since I last had full power." She let go of Chrom and grinned. "But for now, my new friends, we have to finish off the Founding Celebrations with a nice big party~!" She ran off before her could reply, with a distinct skip to her step and a lovely little ditty dancing through the air after her.

"Bah, any excuse for a party, and she jumps all over it." A very large man stepped into the room then, and I recognized him instantly as Basilio, the Western Khan. Olivia and Lon'qu trailed after him, with Olivia smiling shyly and Lon'qu perfectly stoic. Lon'qu had a "So, you're the Crown Prince of Ylisse," Basilio murmured, his voice a quiet rumble. His expression was calm, though, hinting that this was just his normal voice. "You're handy with a sword, boy. I thought for sure I had the stronger man."

"I'm just lucky," Chrom instantly replied. He looked a little wary. "Might I ask who you are?"

"Basilio, the Khan you rather rudely ousted." He sighed heavily, though he smiled slightly. "Ugh, I'm going to have to foot the bill for this party." The smile faded, though, as he became somber. "How's your archer friend?"

"Virion? Healed."

"Good. I'm glad. That man was recommended to me… or so I thought. Turns out that guy killed the one recommended and took his appearance. Since I'd never seen him before, I hadn't realized the deception. I apologize for that." His eyes narrowed slightly. "Accent was Plegian. They might've caught wind of what you were doing here. We'll be doing careful checks on spies as soon as possible."

"No one died, so I see no point in fretting further." Chrom paused and smiled slightly. "Oh, wait, is this like with Flavia apologizing for the border? Compensation or something?"

"That was going to be the next bit. So, be good, boy, and take the help." Basilio laughed, clapping his hands. "And the axe user? I'm impressed he got a hit on Lon'qu."

"He's also healing." Chrom hesitated before nodding. "About Marth, that mercenary…"

"Already gone. Not very sporting of him." Basilio frowned heavily, hinting that he really didn't approve. "Just a sellsword, really, with dreams of glory or something. All I know is that he showed up one eve and knocked my previous champion flat." He gestured to Lon'qu, who simply closed his eyes. "It was love at first sight, though I'm too old for such things!" He laughed warmly, and I remembered how rumors often mentioned Basilio's bisexuality, and frequent lovers over the years. "Regardless, though…" He gestured for Lon'qu to step up. "I already know what's up. Flavia told me and, to be frank, I'd been thinking about contact Ylisse because of these strange zombie things. So, while Flavia and I work on calling up our full army, take Lon'qu along. You've already seen his skill."

"Pardon?" Chrom looked a little startled, but before he said anything, he glanced at me. I nodded, and he smiled slightly. "Well, I certainly have no objections if Lon'qu doesn't."

"...He gives orders. I stab things," Lon'qu replied. His voice was surprisingly deep given his slight frame. "I think our roles are pretty clear."

"That may be, but since Ylisse doesn't have a proper army, you would be joining the Shepherds and we are an organization made up of strictly volunteers," Chrom answered. His smile warmed. "So, I ask again. Are you willing?"

"...Yes. Basilio already discussed this with me."

"Excellent! We're glad to have you." Chrom grinned, and Lon'qu actually cracked a small smile. "Here, I'll introduce you to the ones here, and then we'll have you meet the others. Do you have any phobias or allergies or anything I need to be aware of?"

"I…" Lon'qu looked uncomfortable suddenly. "Uh…"

"Lon'qu has a bit of gynophobia," Basilio answered. It seemed perfectly rehearsed, like this was actually a bit of a lie, to cover up something Lon'qu didn't actually want to talk about. "He's fine on the battlefield, so don't worry about having him pair up with some of your female fighters. But off the field, don't expect him to be cozying up with any of them!"

"Oh, I think I heard something about that in the crowd when we arrived," I murmured. I nodded, and smiled at Lon'qu. "Well, I think that can be handled easily. Chrom, I'll handle telling Robin that if you want to get started on introductions."

"And while you two do that, I'll go with Olivia to make sure Flavia doesn't completely clear out my coffers." Basilio groaned. "Ugh, I can feel the hole in my treasury already."

The party was loud, and filled with cheer. It was hard to tell if there was more alcohol or laughter, but everyone was clearly having a blast. Feroxi traditional music of harps, flutes, and fiddles flitted through the laughter, encouraging people to dance in the giant open area. We were in a giant dining room, apparently designed to hold all of Ferox for a party, except I knew there were even more outside, with impromptu plays and improv also going on. The party here within the walls of 'Castle Ferox' was just for the higher ranked, much like most special parties in most countries. However 'higher ranked', in this case, meant things like 'general' or 'admiral', since Ferox actually did have a standing navy.

"Oh, wow, watching was so stressful!" Sumia whimpered. After her last run in with alcohol, she had decided to drink water, like me. "Frederick looked ready to jump in so many times…"

"I'm glad he didn't since, you know, big offense to them," I replied. She and I were tucked into a corner, doing our best to not be tripped over and have ale sloshed on us. Again, in Sumia's case. She still smelled a bit of stale ale, though we'd gotten the worst of it off her. "But yeah. How's Blondie?"

"Vaike? He's… sleeping." Sumia sighed, looking a bit sad. "I think being the only one to outright lose wasn't very good for his confidence…"

"I think it's a great thing, considering how over confident he is."

"Oh, he's much more fragile than he appears." She frowned slightly as I scoffed. "You really don't like him."

"I am not impressed with him. I never said I disliked him." I sipped my water. "I don't care enough to have an opinion, and have no desire to know him more to form one."

"Mmm…" She sighed. "Well, I can't force you to like him. It makes me a bit sad, though."

"No one can like everyone. What makes the Shepherds unique is that everyone can get along well enough, and all of them respect each other." I gave her a look. "Don't think I haven't noticed how you avoid people."

"B-but I annoy people!" Her voice became squeaky, and she ducked her head. "I don't want to bother and-"

"Well, I guess I'm not people." I smiled slightly, and maybe a little bitterly. But she was looking down, so thankfully she didn't notice. "Since you do not annoy me, nor bother me. I mean; who else can I have in-depth discussions of smut with?"

"It's not just that we talk about!" Her face went bright red as she pouted at me. "We also talk about how we like or dislike how pairings were written." Her eyes lit up. "Oh! Right, so, the one who wrote Ribald released one detailing the events of the legendary Campaign of Fire! I have a copy. Do you want to borrow it?"

"Is it smutty?"

"W-well, yes…" Her face went redder. "I think the author is just going to do a whole Ribald series about legends of the past."

"Of course." I grinned, laughing a little. "Sure. I'll borrow it. I'm rather curious where they'll be thrown in. Probably more glad-to-be-alive sex."

"Kestrel!" She managed, somehow, to go even redder as she sulked and I laughed. "You're horrible. I love you, but you're horrible sometimes."

"You're fun to tease." A thought occurred to me. "Oh, right, do you want to borrow that poetry book I bought? The poems are really quite lovely, and there's a few I think you'd really enjoy."

"Oh, really?" Her blush faded as her eyes sparkled. "Yes, yes! I'd love to read them!"

"Excellent, so we'll do a little book trade and-"

"Oh, there you are." Basilio appeared out of nowhere, and snagged my arm. Then, without so much as a 'by your leave', he dragged me out of the corner and through the crowd. Before I could protest, he threw me at Chrom, of all people, before shoving us in the middle of the dancers. "There, go dance or something, you two!" he laughed, the sound easily trumping all the other noise. "Have fun!" Then he was off, still laughing.

"Did… did he hit his head?" I asked softly, not quite sure what had happened. This was incredibly awkward, especially since the dancers around us were definitely encouraging us to join in and since I had no idea why he'd throw me at Chrom. "Did losing crack his mind?"

"Maybe this is his way to get back at us?" Chrom suggested. He shrugged, though, looking strangely unperturbed. "Well, might as well join in, since we're here."

"What?" I gave him the most incredulous look I could muster. "I… I really can't dance."

"It's fine. I can adapt."

"I'm going to tread on your toes, and actually not mean to do it."

"I learned with Sully." He took my hands and smiled slightly. "Come on. It'll be fun."

"I will trip and fall."

"I'm friends with Sumia."

"...You have a counter for each argument, don't you?" I sighed heavily as his smile grew. "Fine, whatever. Don't say I didn't warn you. I don't even know what to do."

"Well, truthfully, I don't know much about Feroxi dances either." He grinned outright. "Come on. Let's join in and have fun."

I did end up stepping on his toes quite a few times, but each time, he laughed it off. Whenever my feet tangled, he caught me before I fell flat on my face. Once, he even used the momentum to swing me up in the air, to my squeak and the crowd's cheers.

It… did end up being fun, though. I had no idea what to make of any of this. I really didn't.

Notes on Vaike:

Class - Fighter; Reclass - Thief, Barbarian

Called 'Blondie' by Kestrel

One of Chrom's childhood friends, an overconfident axe user who proclaims Chrom as his fiercest rival. Seems to think highly of Chrom, and Emmeryn.

Tends to speak in third person a lot and calls himself 'Teach' for reasons unknown, especially since he only seems to teach people what not to do by example. Originally from the slums of Ylisstol.

He rarely backs up his boasts, but recent events make it questionable whether he believes his boasts, or just feigns confidence.

Chapter Text

Interlude - Castle

With our task in Ferox completed, we return to Ylisstol. Some of the group is hungover, but Stahl and Lissa keep everyone from puking too much of their guts. The trip back is quiet, and even a little cheery. Blondie is back to his full spirits before long, and the group works on integrating the standoffish Lon'qu with a friendliness that startled him.

Something bad is going to happen. I know it.

When we returned to Ylisstol, everyone went straight to the castle. Frederick expertly led everyone else off to guest rooms within the castle itself, while Chrom led Lissa, Robin, and me towards an open room with numerous windows letting sunshine in, various rugs of differing colors, a bookcases lining the walls, and a desk in the center of it all.

Emmeryn and Fea… Phila were waiting for us there, Emmeryn sitting at the desk while Phila stood at her side. Both looked up when we walked in, and smiled when they saw who it was.

"Welcome home," Emmeryn murmured, standing and moving around the desk to hug both Lissa and Chrom. At this point, it became clear that this was her study, and it made so much sense that the study of the Exalt would be so open and… borderline pretentious. "I trust you were successful? Your message only said that you were coming home soon."

"Sorry, Emm, I feared it being intercepted," Chrom replied. He pulled away and smiled warmly at her. Lissa continued to hold onto her for a second more before popping back, while Robin and I hung awkwardly behind them. "But we were. Ferox will aid us."

"Wonderful!" She clapped her hands together, smiling brightly. "I knew sending you was the right choice."

"Well, I got lucky." Chrom snagged my hand and dragged me forward. "Kestrel here was a huge help, thanks to knowing the culture."

"Truly?" Emmeryn stepped forward and actually hugged me. "Thank you too, Kestrel."

"I-it really wasn't nothing," I stammered, startled by the unexpected hug. Then I realized what I said. "I mean; it really was nothing. It wasn't anything. I…"

"What my sister means to say is that we are simply grateful that we could aid Chrom," Robin helpfully 'translated'. He smiled charmingly as Emmeryn released me from the hug. "After all, you have given us a home, and a job, despite our questionable backgrounds." His right hand twitched, and I knew he was thinking of the Brand. "We are… very grateful. I have amnesia, but my sister makes it clear that we have not had very kind pasts. To have people willing to be kind is… rare."

"Well, you'll always have a home here, with us!" Lissa chirped. She grinned and both Emmeryn and Chrom nodded. Hell, even Phila nodded, with a small smile. "You're Shepherds now! We stand together and all those cheesy motivational things Chrom says!"

"I do not say anything like that," Chrom retorted. Emmeryn started giggling, while Robin and I snickered. "I do-!"

"Your grace!" The doors slammed open and a woman wearing red and silver pegasus knight armor strode forward, quickly kneeling to Emmeryn and Chrom. "A-and my lord, I did not expect to see you," she murmured, bowing her head. Her red hair was incredibly long, easily falling to the floor. "My apologies for interrupting, but I bring grave news."

"Cordelia, easy," Emmeryn murmured. Her face was stoically kind, and it was obvious she was back to being the Exalt. "Lift your head. What has happened?"

"I'm sorry, Your Grace." This Cordelia raised her head slightly, and glanced over at Chrom before focusing quickly on Emmeryn. "Plegian soldiers have been sighted inside our southwest border, and captured Duke Themis's daughter after attacking a village there."

"Themis?!" Lissa yelped. Her eyes went wide and her knees actually buckled. Robin caught her before she fell. "That's Maribelle!" She turned to Chrom, who looked grim. "Chrom, please, we have to do something!"

"Easy, Lissa," Emmeryn murmured. Only the slightest tremble in her hand betrayed her surprise. "Cordelia, was there more to this?"

"Yes, Your Grace," Cordelia replied. She bowed her head again. "King Gangrel claims that Maribelle invaded his land, and demands reparations to this insult."

"And he no doubts has the backing of his people since they'll easily believe in a sudden attack on their lands," I murmured, more for Robin's benefit than anyone else's. He was the only one without much of a clue of what was going on. "The previous war started with a sudden attack in that area, if I recall the rumors correctly."

"Yes, it's true," Chrom growled. He tried to clench his fist, but ended up just squeezing my hand painfully. He was still holding it. "Ah, sorry…"

"It's fine. Just keep your temper." I did tug my hand out from his, though, and he looked very guilty over the thought. "He wants you to get mad."

"She's right, Chrom," Emmeryn agreed. She gave me a small smile before turning to Chrom. Cordelia kept her head bowed, but I had this strange feeling she was also staring at me through her bangs. It was likely my paranoia speaking, though. "We must keep your wits about us."

"We should just put a sword in his gut and be done with it!" Chrom snapped. Lissa instantly squeaked and hid in Robin's coat. Emmeryn actually winced, though she quickly tried to hide it. I knew Chrom saw both, though, because I saw the pain in his eyes that he masked with ease. "The Mad King has been provoking war with each step despite the great devastation the last one inflicted on his own country! He won't stop until he drags the whole continent to hell with him!"

"I understand your feelings, Chrom. Truly I do." She made to touch his arm, but he pulled away subtly. Her hand hesitated before falling back to her side. "But if we give him the war he wants, then we will lose, no matter what the outcome." She closed her eyes and nodded. "We cannot make that same mistake. I will offer parley."

There was a brief, very brief, bit of silence, and then there was cacophony. Even Robin was protesting the madness of the suggestion, and I just hung back, wondering what was going to happen. The noise just built and built as everyone tried to be heard. Chrom and Phila were the loudest, Robin's voice was the strongest, Cordelia lifted her head to voice something about the pride of the pegasus knights, Lissa began crying again...

Finally, though, Emmeryn brought both of her hands up in a very clear 'enough' gesture, and the whole room silenced. "So, we either march to war or leave Maribelle to die?" she asked softly. When no one answered, she slowly shook her head. "No, I will not accept such a binary choice. I will at least try the third option."

"...Of course, Your Grace," Phila murmured. She knelt to Emmeryn. "But please, allow me to arrange a squadron or two of pegasus knights to accompany you."

"Of course."

"Thank you." She stood and walked over to touch Cordelia's shoulder. "Come, we must prepare." Cordelia stood as well, and bowed, before following Phila out the door. A stony silence fell as the door clicked shut, with no one really knowing what to do or say.

"I'm going too," Chrom whispered. His eyes were dark. "Someone has to save you from your good intentions."

"Chrom…" Emmeryn began. She reached out for him, but he took a subtle step back. "Chrom, I-"

"I know. But still, based on your previous efforts, I do not feel as if King Gangrel is someone who you can reason with. Someone needs to protect you, in case I am right."

"...I know. Thank you." Emmeryn smiled sweetly, and Chrom relaxed slightly. "Your strength has always helped me, Chrom."

"And I'll be there too!" Lissa declared. She jumped up and snagged both of her siblings by the arm, knocking them a little off balance so that she could hug them. "I'll be there for both of you, and Maribelle too!"

There was a bit of laughter, and a bit of teasing, and Robin and I hung back as the siblings chatted. His eyes were narrowed, though, thinking of strategies, and my eyes closed because I knew how this would end. I knew how Plegia viewed Emmeryn's peacefulness. They saw her as a hypocrite who only cared about her own people. They saw her as a paragon of self-righteousness, who did nothing to help those her father harmed.

No matter how this ended, it would lead to war. Gangrel had the perfect excuse, using Maribelle as a scapegoat. Poor girl.

The next few hours were spent frantically preparing to march out tomorrow. The Shepherds were particularly enthused-grim in their preparations, since Maribelle was a Shepherd too. I spent most of the time packing for myself and Robin, cooking for the group to make sure no one forgot to eat, shooing away a little boy who wore an oversized hat like Miriel, and double-checking everyone's weapons were ready. Once that was all over, I decided to go look for Chrom for our nightly sparring sessions, and promptly got lost in the far too big castle.

"This is not my night," I grumbled, walking through the halls. The castle was pretty, but I'd long since stopped admiring the prettiness since I'd been wandering for at least an hour now. "Ugh… why have I not even run into a helpful maid yet?"

Little bits of murmuring caught my ear right then, and I mentally cursed the gods for being so goddamned convenient now. I headed for them, ready to ask for help figuring out where the hell to go. But as I rounded the corner, I flattened myself back against the wall as I realized it was Emmeryn and Frederick. Then I paused and wondered why I was hiding from them and peered around again.

"I'm worried about Chrom, Frederick," Emmeryn was saying as she and he walked down the hall. She walked very closely to him, their hands almost touching. "He gets so angry…"

"Anger is a healthy emotion, my lady," Frederick gently chided. He smiled down at her. "You cannot blame his frustration that his dear older sister runs into danger."

"I suppose." She sighed, drooping slightly. "Still, I worry."

"Of course you do, my lady. You are his sister."

"Will he be happy? Can he be happy? I've burdened him with so much…" She stopped walking and turned to face Frederick. "He deals with both our father's legacy and my own. The people look to him as their future, and yet, he simply sees our father's shadow in everything he does."

"My lady…"

"And I've burdened him with… other things…" Her head dropped and she clasped her hands in front of her. "I've burdened you as well…"

"My lady…" Frederick looked down at her with sad eyes, yet a soft smile, and then took one of her hands gently in his. "My lady, my life's joy has been here, serving as a knight." He knelt down and gently kisses her hand. "Seeing you smile, seeing my lord grow into a proud and skilled leader, seeing Princess Lissa find her own path… I can think of no greater happiness."

"Frederick…" Emmeryn looked ready to cry, even as she smiled warmly. "Truly, I am grateful."

There might've been more, but someone snagged my arm and dragged me away. I nearly yelped, but then I realized it was Chrom who held me, and we quickly walked away from the two, down the halls. I remained silent as he continued dragging me, until finally I said, "Chrom?"

He stopped abruptly, so abruptly that I actually ran into him. Then, slowly, he turned to face me with dark, yet sad eyes. The expression dropped, though, when he realized he'd had me by the arm. "Ah, sorry," he mumbled, loosening his grip. He ran his fingers over my arm, laughing a little bitterly. "That's twice today."

"Oh, this one just confused me. It wasn't painful."

"I'm sorry about earlier. I… I forgot I had your hand and…"

"That's why you should watch your temper. You could hurt things you don't want to hurt." I took his hand and squeezed it gently. "It's a good lesson."

"Especially for me." His eyes darkened again. "Damn all of this, though."

"The situation is at a point where nothing can be resolved with simply words." I sighed. "I admire her dedication to her pacifism, though. But Plegia will not believe her unless she can speak to them directly. If she can, I'm certain they'd see her sincerity. But things are so tense between the countries, she won't get the chance…" I looked down at his hand, still holding it. "Plegia did not like how Emmeryn offered no help to them after ending the war. Gangrel is an embodiment of his people's wrath, driven mad by the pain."

"Mad dogs need to be put down."

"I agree. But you need a plan for explaining to the 'owners' why you put their dog down." I smiled at him and, slowly, he smiled back. "Think beyond being death's agent, Chrom. Unless you plan on him killing you at the same time, which you better not, you will have to help Emmeryn with restoring relations." I paused as I remembered the scene I'd just witnesses. "Hey, Chrom."

"Don't." His smile dropped and he shook his head, slowly pulling his hand out of mine. "Not a word. Not one word about them."

"Why…?" I almost asked the question, but I realized it quickly. The reason was because in order to mend her broken country, heal her bleeding people, Emmeryn had to put herself 'above' them. She had to act the part of the pure and wise leader, the maiden who leads Ylisse towards healing and redemption. All too often 'purity' was associated with celibacy and no romantic attachments. To keep up that role, she had to reject any romances, even if she wanted it. And it was hard to say that the people would understand, considering that she had spent the past fifteen years cultivating this image.

After all, the people loved the Emmeryn they saw. They loved Emmeryn the Exalt, not Emmeryn the girl. They didn't love the twenty-four, twenty-five year old woman who had been chained by her father's legacy since before she was ten years old. They didn't know her. If she chose to take someone as a lover, as a husband, she would take a gamble. They might be all right with it. But they might react badly to their pure and saintly Exalt showing she was actually human.

Emmeryn was a cautious person by nature. She wouldn't take that gamble.

"That's not fair," I whispered. I almost laughed at how child-like my voice were. "Of course, life isn't fair anyway. But it seems…" I bowed my head, barely checking the urge to punch something. "It seems especially unfair."

"...Yeah, it is," Chrom murmured. He had a dark and sad look when I glanced up. "My father continues to ruin our lives… even fifteen years after he's dead."

"What about you and Lissa?" I had… no real idea why I asked that. It just bubbled out.

"Well, Lissa's free to marry whoever she wants." He shifted awkwardly. "I… have no idea for me. The people do expect me to marry, though. I know that much. Emmeryn can't marry because of duty, and I have to marry for duty. Probably better to just marry someone I can befriend and not… I mean; the court is bad, and whoever my wife would be would face a lot of scrutiny and…"

"Right, right, no, that… makes sense. Being queen requires a lot of work and all." I fidgeted, not quite sure what to do. "Have you… thought about who?"

"Not really, no." He was mumbling now. "Well, a little… maybe."

"Like who?"

"Thought Sully, but Sully might just kill me. Sumia's too kind to survive long in the court. Maribelle is probably the most suitable in terms of political skill, but she's my sister's best friend and she works too hard already. She'll likely die from overwork before the year is up." His voice became quieter and quieter. "So, mostly just… that."

"I see." This felt awkward. I couldn't breath. "I… had been looking for you, for our typical sparring match. But perhaps we should just… skip out today, maybe? Since we'll be marching out tomorrow for a declaration of war."

"Y-yeah, probably." He sounded a little disappointed, and I squirmed, unable to help it. "But perhaps some… tea or… midnight snacks or…?"

"It's… probably better to just go to bed, Chrom… you must be exhausted." It really hurt to breath, and I didn't know why. I felt like crying, but there was no reason to cry. I just had no idea why…

"Ah, well, yes, but it's really relaxing being around you…" It was hard to make out his words, even though I was standing right in front of him. "Though, maybe you just… wait, hold on, that sounds like guilting…"

"N-No, it's fun being around you. Most of the time. Though, really, you're far too kind to someone like me." For the first time in a long while, I wished Mom was alive. Then I could talk to her about what the hell was going on with me. I had no idea. I didn't interact with people. It had just been Robin and me for most of my life, on the run from the Grimleal. Anyone I ever got close to often got killed by them. I didn't…

"Really? I often think I'm not being kind enough. Especially with how helpful you've been with… everything."

"No, I'm really not doing much." My hands started shaking. "I… really need to get to bed, at least."

"Oh, right, yeah." He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Might I… escort you to your room? The Shepherds are staying in the castle tonight instead of the barracks like normal."

"Yeah, sure, that's fine."

The two of us walked in awkward silence all the way to the room labeled as 'mine'. We managed to bid each other farewell and goodnight with smiles, but as soon as I shut the door behind me, I collapsed, silently crying, for reasons I just really, really didn't understand.

What the hell was wrong with me?

Notes on Stahl:

Class - Cavalier; Reclass - Myrmidon, Archer

Once called 'Green' by Kestrel

The younger son of an apothecary, a commoner who rose through the ranks with ease despite his laid back demeanor. Bullied among the knights due to not being of noble heritage, but never bothered acknowledging them.

A decidedly average person with a larger than normal appetite. He always cleans his plate, and always goes for fourth and fifth helpings.

A… strangely genuinely kind person, who always wishes to help people to the point of self-sacrifice. Most just accept it, but many also question it, worried for his health.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5) The Exalt and the King

We head for the Plegian border, to meet with King Gangrel himself to parley and negotiate for Maribelle's safe return and no war. I highly doubt we'd get either of those things, but Emmeryn gets points for keeping to her beliefs, even in such troubling circumstances.

I'm just damn certain those beliefs were going to get someone killed at this point. Keeping to pacifism during such tense times was to risk certain death, after all.

Cliffs. Cliffs, dotted with little forts, leftover from the old war. The terrain was perfect for hiding troops, especially the wyvern riders Plegia was famous for. This was also the area Gangrel picked, which all but guaranteed that he had soldiers set up. The question more became whether he'd strike immediately, or taunt Emmeryn.

Chrom, Robin, and I walked with Emmeryn as she approached where Gangrel was lounging, clearly bored. The Shepherds, as well as a unit of pegasus knights with Phila, were on standby a 'safe' distance away, close enough to react, but far enough to not be seen as an immediate threat. In theory. Lissa had wanted to come, but Emmeryn had asked her to stay back. I knew it was because we weren't certain if we'd see Maribelle… or her corpse.

"Robin," I whispered as we got close. He glanced back at me. "Whatever you do, keep your hood up and gloves on."

"Understood," he murmured. He checked both for emphasis, before reaching over and double-checking that my own hood was up. "We'll be careful."

"Yeah." By now, Emmeryn had stopped and Gangrel slowly rose, smirking as he stretched and took his time acknowledging us. I snagged Chrom's arm, having a feeling he'd need the extra help with his temper. He stiffened and jerked out of my grip, though, and I flinched back, wondering if I'd crossed a line. But he stared at me for a long moment and then, slowly and deliberately, took my hand.

"Might work better," he whispered. I smiled slightly in reply and nodded. "You sure?"

"I grabbed you to help you with your temper," I pointed out. I hesitantly stepped a little closer. Things had been a little… odd between us, since the strange conversation. Not awkward, but I, at least, was more nervous. "Gangrel's going to do his level best to rile everyone."

"And mine is probably the quickest of our little group." He sighed. "Thank you."

"It's really nothing. Just trying to repay some of the kindness."

"Kindness isn't something that needs to be repaid." He smiled at me and, a little shyly, pulled me even closer. "If anything, I owe you. You've done so much for me, I…" He trailed off, looking a little uncertain, before shaking his head and facing forward. "Later. This is too serious for such a debate."

"My, my, what is this~?" Gangrel asked then, looking down at us. It was time for the 'show' to begin. "The Exalt herself in all her radiance? I fear I must shield my eyes!" Gangrel cackled before sweeping into a rather elegant bow, for all that he looked like a court jester. "I do believe this is the first time we've met face to face."

"It is indeed, King Gangrel," Emmeryn replied. She bowed to him as well, and kept her expression serene. "I've come to learn the truth about this… unfortunate incident."

"Oh, if you want the truth, I can give it to you." A woman slinked up then, and I blinked at the amount of skin she showed. That wasn't a very smart thing to do in a place like Plegia, which was more than half desert. Scorching sun, gritty sand, and exposed skin rarely mixed well, even with those with darker skin, like hers. Besides, the sand could easily slip through the hems and collar of her outfit, meaning sand in very sensitive areas. It wasn't very practical at all. "If you do not mind my speaking, of course," the woman continued, completely oblivious to my trying to figure out why the hell she wore that outfit. Her tone seemed almost flirtatious, and I decided she purposely dressed that way to better seduce, and possibly kill, her victims. "Do you?"

"Of course I do not mind," Emmeryn replied. She still kept herself serene. "Perhaps my lady might honor me with her name first?"

"You may call me 'Aversa', Exalt Emmeryn." She smiled slowly, and I realized I… actually recognized that name. Vaguely. I mostly just remembered my mother praising a little girl who my father 'adopted'. But shortly after that, Mom escaped with us, so I'd never even seen the girl. That would explain the tattoos she wore, though. Among the Grimleal, many would tattoo themselves with the ink used to write tomes, allowing for faster casting times in exchange for pain. Few would have them so prominent, though. "Now, then about the girl…"

"Is she well?"

"Yes, she is…" Aversa gestured, and two soldiers walked up with a girl in a pink 'riding outfit' and falling about ringlets held between them. "You must forgive us for restraining her, as-"

"Unhand me, you gutter-born troglodyte!" the girl, obviously Maribelle, instantly snapped. She was not helping her case, name-calling like that. It would've been better to act meeker. "I should-!"

"As you can see, she is perfectly safe," Aversa continued with a little sigh, as if exasperated. "This girl crossed the border without consent and, worse, wounded the soldiers who only sought to escort her back."

"You speak nothing but lies, hag!" Maribelle glared, and stopped struggling. "Did they not teach you how to speak truth wretched-crone school?!"

"You can forgive us for keeping such a rude little bird caged, yes? We tired more quickly of blows to the eyes than her trying to burn our ears off with meager insults."

"Such a violent temper certainly speaks of her guilt," Gangrel sighed mournfully. It sounded genuine enough to make me uncomfortable; he was a good liar. "By our laws, this would be quite the weighty punishment. And should she have actually been a spy, much like the ones who breached our border in the past..."

"I have done nothing wrong!" Maribelle snapped. She continued to glare and snarl, as if she was in charge. She definitely had far too much pride. "They razed an entire village! When I went to stop them, they kidnapped me! Let the plundered shops and charred homes serve as my proof!"

"That, idiot girl, only serves that Ylisse has a bandit problem, something I've heard oft of late." Gangrel shrugged. "Nothing more, and nothing less. I shall, however, weep salty tears for your dead villagers, I assure you."

"That's not…!"

"Peace, Maribelle," Emmeryn interrupted. She shook her head and focused on Gangrel. "King Gangrel, I request that you release her at once. Surely we can work this out without the need for hostages?"

"Whyever would I think that?" Gangrel asked, looking surprisingly sincere. "You wouldn't have even come anywhere near here if we hadn't had her in our possession. You've proved quite well over the years that you never leave your ivory castle. Why, from my understanding, you just send your brother all over the place with his sheep or shepherds or whatever the hell they're called, making him do all the dirty work while you go about being the saint."

"That is…"

"Besides, why should I release her without so much as an apology? Why should I even bother with parley?" Gangrel scoffed. "I'm within my rights to simply have her head, and be home in time with supper!" He laughed as Chrom made to lunge, but I snagged his arm before he could. "Yes, yes, keep your dog prince on his leash, your grace. Someone might get hurt."

"My brother has nothing to do with this." Emmeryn looked up at Gangrel calmly. "You are the one who set this meeting up, King Gangrel. If you do not wish to parley, pray tell, why did you go through all this trouble?"

"Well, well, now we get to business at last." Gangrel snickered, clearly having fun with all of this. "I propose a trade, actually. You give me the Fire Emblem, and I'll give you Mary Contrary here in one piece."

"The… Fire Emblem?" For the first time, Emmeryn let her calm expression fall, replacing it with confusion. "Ylisse's royal treasure? Why?"

"Because I know the legend!" He gestured grandly, as if he were now on a stage. "The Fire Emblem is said to be the key to granting all of one's wishes! I have desired it for years, years!" He sighed, shaking his head. "Yet my birthday comes and goes each year, and nothing from Ylisse."

"The Emblem's power is not meant for granting wishes, King Gangrel. It is meant to protect the world." Emmeryn returned to her calm expression. "Would you claim so noble a wish?"

"I want what all Plegians want!" Gangrel smirked, and there was something broken and mad about it. "A grisly end to all of Ylisse! What could be more noble?" He cackled as Emmeryn simply stared, visibly startled. "Surely you've not forgotten what your father did! He named us heathens and his crusaded butchered countless of my people!"

"I…" Emmeryn shook her head. "I have never denied Ylisse's past wrongdoings, but I have sworn to atone for it. Ours is a realm of peace."

"Yours is a realm of hypocrisy! You did nothing to help Plegia! You just ended the war and left us to piece it together ourselves!" He snarled down at her. "Now, give me the Fire Emblem, or the girl dies!"

"Your grace, just leave me!" Maribelle snapped instantly, without even letting a silence fall. She struggled against the guards holding her. "I'd rather die than be used as a bargaining chip for this filthy reprobate!"

"Maribelle…" Emmeryn whispered. She hesitated, and in her eyes, I saw the very real fear that she would have to decide this, here and now. The Emblem, or her sister's best friend. "I…"

"Don't give them the Emblem," I advised, letting go of Chrom to walk to her side. Emmeryn turned to me, looking almost fragile, and I knew Chrom and Robin were glaring at me. I knew Lissa stared at me with horror. "He'll likely kill her anyway. Besides, do you even have it on you?"

"Well, no, I don't…"

"See? And he likely knows that." I shook my head. "He wants a war. He's going to get it. He's set this up far too perfectly. You made the mistake of thinking he wanted peace, and that his madness meant he was stupid. He's won. Do not promise him anything. Do not give him anything."


"If you stall, I think I can sneak over and get to her." I looked her right in the eye. "It's going to be war, no matter what. Peace has been impossible since your father ravaged their lands. Do not fall for their trick any more than you already have, Emmeryn. I can get her."

She gave me a curious look then, and her eyes darted to Chrom for some reason before returning to me. Then she smiled slightly, though there was really nothing to smile at. "You've thought this out far more than me."

"I know Plegia's wrath a little better. That's all." I also was damned convinced that if Gangrel wanted the Emblem so much, it had something to do with the Grimleal. That meant it had something to do with Grima. I remembered vague stories about how the Fire Emblem was needed to contact Naga in the past. It stood to reason that Grima could also use it's power; power was simply power, after all. "Gangrel's about to make another scene."

"Are you just going to stand around talking?" Gangrel groaned, proving my point. He brought up his hand and mimed out a talking action with it. "Taaaalk-talk-talk-talk. Boring, really. It's time that actions speak instead!" He gestured sharply, and Plegian soldiers jumped down the cliffside. "Negotiations are over! I'll have your Emblem if I have to pry it from your shiny dead hands!"

The soldiers lunged forward, and, noticing I had no time to draw blade, I threw myself in front of Emmeryn, planning on taking advantage of my ability to simply survive to get through the assault. However, someone blocked the attack and it took me a few blinks to realize that there was a white cloak whipping about in front of me. Chrom had moved to shield Emmeryn and me, and easily countered the attack, injuring, but not killing, the soldier.

"Stay back," Chrom growled. He shifted into a better stance, standing firmly in front of Emmeryn and me. "Or you'll suffer the same fate."

"...Chrom, you big idiot!" I snapped, annoyed. He turned to me, startled. I knew I should probably thank him, but he should've just kept silent, and not…! "I know negotiations are off and everything, but gods damn it!"

"Wait, what did I do?"

"Gangrel's about to tell you, I bet!"

"Huh, there's someone with half a brain among your group. Interesting," Gangrel murmured, looking actually intrigued for once. But them he smirked, broken and mad once more. "But she's right. That right there was a declaration of war if I'd ever heard one!" He laughed, and it just… sounded wrong. "A big, messy war that'll bleed Ylisse dry!"

"...Oh, damn it," Chrom mumbled. I simply sighed heavily. "Well, um…"

"Later," I replied. I couldn't really blame him. Gangrel had launched the assault. It just… would've been better if someone other than Chrom had declared it. "I'm going to try and reach Maribelle before they kill her."

"...Please stay safe."

"I'll be back with her before you know it." I flashed a confident smile I didn't feel and started climbing up the cliffsides as the Plegian soldiers whirled about, gleefully laughing at the chance of fighting Ylisse. By the time I climbed up to where Gangrel and Aversa had been, the Shepherds were fighting, and my palms and fingertips were bleeding even through the gloves I wore.

Once there, I stuck to the edges of the cliffs, grimacing at how exposed this whole area was. There were not many places to hide, which was good when you were trying to find someone, but bad if you were trying to be sneaky about it. Thankfully, though, most were paying far more attention to the Ylissean soldiers and not to the hooded girl skulking about. So, I found Maribelle not far from the cliff I'd climbed, though certainly out of sight of the group. She was on her knees, with the soldiers holding her down, and Aversa stood in front of her, casually tossing her tome from one hand to the other.

"Poor, stupid girl," Aversa drawled, walking slowly to Maribelle. "Are you really worth fighting a war over?" She shook her head, laughing softly. "Years from now, you'll be remembered only as the girl who doomed House Ylisse. All because you decided to go and talk to the 'bandits' without any sort of back-up."

"I…" Maribelle began. Her earlier fire was gone, replaced with dread and tears. "Lissa… Chrom… I just wanted… to make their jobs easier… why did this…?"

"You may ask the gods when you see them. But I doubt you'll get an answer." Dark magic blossomed at her fingertips. "The gods don't care about insignificant people like you and me."

"If you're trying to make me cry, you'll have to try harder." Maribelle closed her eyes and lifted her head slightly, the picture of dignity. "Go ahead. You were planning it anyway."

"That I was." Aversa shrugged. "Goodbye, little rude bird." Just as she was about to cast the spell, though, the wind whipped up and battered the soldiers holding Maribelle, actually knocking them down. "What is this?!"

"Maribelle, let's go!" A child wearing an oversized hat and robes like Miriel rode up on a roan horse and held out his hand to her. "You're free!" he declared, stating the obvious. "Come on!"

"Aw, is this your little boyfriend?" Aversa asked, voice mocking and patronizing. "How precious."

"Don't talk down to me, witch!" The boy gestured with his other hand, and a fairly powerful Elwind ripped through the air and got her straight on. "Come on, Maribelle!"

"As if I'd let that stop me!" Aversa snarled and dark magic appeared around her. "I should-!"

"Enough of that," I replied, lunging forward and tackling her off her feet. "Procul vis, non tamen." My blood burned as I called upon a 'dispel magic' curse, and I winced at the pain. Curses drained my blood, and health, so they were situational at best. If I weren't Grima's Vessel, though, I wouldn't even be able to do this. "Don't stand around, you two!" I swung at Aversa's back, and when she dodged, I elbowed her in the face before kicking her into the cliffside. "We're getting out of here, now!"

"R-right!" Maribelle yelped. She jumped onto the horse, and easily urged it into a canter. I jumped down the path, mostly to get out of sight of Aversa before she got a good look at me. I'd… likely already revealed myself with that little trick, though. It wasn't the best of plans, but I'd wanted a bit more time before she could retaliate. Hopefully, she'd just arrogantly assume the soldiers would get us and leave us alone. Soldiers were easier to avoid.

When I judged we were a 'safe' distance away, I urged the two to dismount and gave them some water. Maribelle did her best to guzzle without guzzling, flushing lightly as she spilled some. I chose to ignore it, and instead focused on the boy. "Who are you?" I finally asked. I somewhat recognized him, but I knew nothing but his face. "Well?"

"My name is Ricken," the boy replied. He looked far too pleased with himself. Far too pleased. "I'm part of the Shepherds!"

"...There's a little kid in the Shepherds?"

He scowled instantly. "I am not a kid!"

"You're like twelve." He looked like a 'frail' twelve at that. "That's still a kid."

"I'm fifteen!" His scowl turned to a sulk. "Okay, fourteen-and-a-half."

"Fourteen." That was younger than Lissa. "Well, whatever. If you would like to be treated as an adult…" I gave him my drollest, sternest look. "Stupid plan."

"How was it stupid?!" He looked frustrated and angry. Maribelle kept quiet, but she did give me a curious look. She hadn't figured out why either. "I saved Maribelle!"

"Without backup. Without letting anyone know that you were near, meaning that if something had happened, you'd be dead and no one would know what the hell happened." I shook my head. "You escaped because I helped, and I was there by happenstance. Just because it happened to work out doesn't mean it wasn't a stupid plan. Only a child believes they alone can save anyone." I sighed. "Besides, you suddenly left during a declaration of war. People could make a good case that you left not to save Maribelle, but to deliver information to Plegia. I wouldn't be surprised if we have people doing that right now, desperate to save their own skins. In that case, you would've been tried, and likely convicted, as a traitor."

"But..." He still looked frustrated, but there was a slight, slight, bit of understanding in his face. At the least, he was thinking about it.

"It worked out, but not because you were the 'hero', and not because you're 'so strong'. It worked because you got very, very lucky. That's not something to count on." Besides, this was war. War had no need for 'heroes'; those who conquered war were 'survivors' only. People made their own heroes from the aftermath, to make themselves feel better. "So…" A loud 'crash' made us jump, and I looked up to see a wyvern had crashed into the cliffside, one wing charred with a thunder spell. Its rider had an arrow through their eye. "We're getting to a secure section. I, at least, told Robin where I was going."

This was going to be very bad.

"If one more wyvern tries to bite me, I'm going to put its head on a spike," I growled, wincing as I moved. I'd gotten tackled by a wyvern while trying to dodge a second one, right into some rocks. "Maybe that'll freak the rest out and then they can leave us alone."

"I'm sorry, darling, were you speaking to me?" Maribelle looked up from tending to Ricken, looking rather tired. We were in an abandoned, broken down fort for the cover, though there wasn't nearly as much as I'd like. Ricken had taken a pretty bad hit due to being too slow to get out of the way. "I don't suppose you found me a staff?" she asked softly, looking down at Ricken.

"No, not yet." I winced as I noticed how pale Ricken was. "How is he?"

"He fell unconscious, but I do not think his life is in… much danger." She sighed heavily. "I learned to heal, but it appears that my knowledge is rather useless without a staff."

"Well, he's not dead yet. That seems far from 'useless'." I smiled at her, noticing that she'd taken the ribbons out of her hair and used them to secure the heavily makeshift bandages of random cloth we'd found for Ricken. "I'll check outside again. Maybe I'll get lucky."

"I fear I used up most of my luck." Still, she smiled back. "Then again, I am normally quite lucky. Though it's not really..."

"You're not dead yet either. Considering everything, that's some damn good luck on your part." I left before she could reply, keeping to the shadows as wyverns flew overhead. This ruined fortress didn't have a wall on one side, and no roof, except for a small, small section, where Maribelle and Ricken were. Thankfully, few looked at a ruined fort for anyone, much less those to attack. The few who did… well, they didn't exactly stick around for long. Dying had a way of doing that.

Carefully, I stepped outside the ruined fortress, glancing around for anything that could be useful. I picked up a sword from a fallen soldier, leaving my near broken one behind. I snagged a couple of tomes for Ricken, just in case. I had to duck under a corpse at one point as a wyvern rider flew too close, but that ended up being a lucky thing: that corpse had been a healer, and they'd had a Mend staff. I snagged it and quickly darted back into the ruined fortress, wincing as my back protested. The pain was mostly in my lower back, which… I apparently used a lot more than I would've thought. However, I made it back and passed Maribelle the staff. She seized it with a little joyful cry and I set about rechecking the area while she worked on healing up Ricken.

"This is perfect, darling," she whispered, smiling. Ricken, meanwhile, stirred slightly, and I was reminded that the Mend staff also helped restore some energy. "Thank you."

"I just… got lucky," I replied, smiling back. I leaned against the wall, sighing slightly. I was very tired, and I had no idea how much longer I'd have to guard the two. We were near the edge of the battle, and it was clear even from here that the others were having a tough time. A lot of pegasus knights had died already; I had no idea if any Shepherds were dead or not.

"Might I ask you something?" She looked up at me. "You hold yourself with a certain… grace. Are you a noble?"

"Not… really, no?" I had to pause to think, though. Among the Grimleal, I had affectionately been called 'princess', and given my father was the Hierophant of the Grimleal, I supposed I was, technically, a noble of Plegia. The Hierophant, after all, held power equal to the King. "I certainly wasn't raised among nobility, if that's what you're asking."

"Oh, how surprising. I didn't think a commoner could be so dignified." She looked genuinely curious, so I bit my tongue to curb my sarcasm. It was not an uncommon belief among nobility, especially in Ylisse where the courts had lots of pride in their 'lofty' bloodlines. Chrom and Lissa were very notable in how little they cared about status. "So peculiar. I suppose you must be the exception."

"I… highly doubt that." I shook my head. "Regardless, though-"

"Oh, yes, I almost forgot." She gave me quite the warm smile. "Thank you so much for taking care of Lissa on the way to Ylisstol. She told me all about it, you see. I'm glad to finally meet and thank you for that."

"...You're welcome?" I was about… ninety percent certain this girl took a head injury. "Is Ricken awake?"

"He is stirring. He might wake up soon and-" She screamed suddenly, and I whirled, barely blocking a sword strike. My eyes went wide as I realized just how close to death I'd been. "That's…"

"See if you can get him up, and hide in a corner!" I kicked my attacker between the legs and stabbed them through the back as they doubled-over, gasping in pain. It was then I realized something pretty bad: we had an entire group. "Gods, I hate you." One lunged forward and I made to parry, but a blade of wind shot over my shoulder. I glanced back to see Ricken was awake, if having to lean heavily against the wall to remain standing. Maribelle tried to tug him into a nearby corner, but he shook his head, stubbornly refusing. I almost told him off for it, since he looked ready to faint again, but more attackers came and I had to concentrate on fighting.

It was mostly sword users, no fliers or mages. Fliers were likely laying siege of the Shepherds, and mages must've been assisting. This was designed to be a quick and efficient strike force, made for quick killings… or quicker kidnappings. It did not escape me that these attackers were not striking to kill me. They struck to try and cripple, to knock me down and pin me. It worked to my advantage; I had no qualms with killing them. But it definitely told me one thing; Aversa had put the pieces together and likely had gotten just enough of a look to give orders. I was to be 'captured', and unless Aversa was selectively stupid, my father would learn before the day was over that one of his precious 'Vessels' was among the Ylisseans.

I hated when I was stupid. I really did.

"Damn it!" I snapped as one attacker actually darted past me. I whirled, meaning to go after them, but someone caught me in a grapple, and I had to struggle to pull them off before I was pinned. By the time I threw them off, into some sharp rocks, the attacker was right on Ricken and Maribelle, and Ricken was not fast enough to get a spell off. But someone else… was beyond fast enough. There was a blur of blues and whites, and it struck the attacker down in one quick strike straight through the back. It took me a couple of blinks to realize who saved them: Lon'qu.

"Made it," he murmured, turning to face me. His clothing was ripped slightly, and splattered with blood, but otherwise, he looked mostly fine. "Robin sent me ahead. We caught sight of the group heading here."

"Makes sense." I shrugged and smiled. Then I turned to Ricken and Maribelle. "And you two?"

"Well, Ricken needs to rest a bit more, in my opinion," Maribelle replied. She was on her knees, while Ricken leaning heavily against the wall. "Um… I need to thank you again."

"Thank him," I replied, pointing to Lon'qu for emphasis. He simply stepped away. "When, you know, he's not being stoic badass, I mean."

"Of course." She shifted as if to stand, but then paused, blinking slowly. "Uh oh."

"What's wrong?" Alarm flooded me. "Did you get hit?"

"No, no, I'm…" She laughed a little awkwardly, like she couldn't quite believe what was going on. "My legs… don't want to cooperate, though."

"Shock. It's fine." I helped her up, having her lean heavily on me. I glanced over at Ricken, and he just sat down, hiding his face in his knees. I hesitated before deciding to focus on Maribelle. I doubted he'd want reassurance from someone who scolded him, even though I was fairly certain he was going into shock too. "You went through a bandit attack, kidnapping, attempt of being used as a hostage, rescue from an execution, and now we're in the middle of a battle, which you don't have much experience with, right?"

"The way you say it, it's like you'd expect me to be screaming."

"More like a faint." I grinned as she scowled. "How are your legs?"

"...I… think I'm steady again?" She carefully pulled away and while her legs still shook, she was able to stand. "I might need help mounting up, though…"

"I'd give your legs a little bit more time to recover personally…" I looked back at Lon'qu. "I need you to guard Maribelle!" For a brief second, I saw very real fear in his eyes, but he masked it quickly. I remembered what Basilio had said and put a little more emphasis on what, exactly, was needed. "I need you to protect her. Her and Ricken."

He stared at me for a moment, before slowly nodding. "All right," he muttered. His expression was stonier than before. "I'll guard her. Them."

"Thank you," I murmured. I made sure to smile and then turned to Maribelle. "Stick with him. He's skilled and fast. I doubt any will hurt you with him as your guard, and when your legs are steadier, you can go back to the healing." I hesitated a bit before pulling a hair tie out of my pocket and tying her hair back in a simple ponytail. "From the looks of it, you have a preferred hairstyle that takes a lot of time to maintain. Use this until you can get back to that." I stepped away, and this time, I heard people approach. At least, I heard a person. "I'll be back. Stay here, you three."

I ran off before anyone could stop me, and had the chance to cut down one enemy before they even knew I was there. I didn't get so lucky with the second one, but I kicked them in the side and struck them down. I met the third outside the fortress, so I just shoved them off the cliffside before attacking some others. As I fought, I noticed something that made my stomach turn, though. These soldiers… many were younger than me. Many fought the same way, barely trained, clearly following a pattern, and not knowing what to when that pattern was disrupted.
These soldiers likely had been simple merchants or something just a few weeks ago. Gangrel called for volunteers to fight Ylisse, they jumped on it, and now, they died simply because I refused to die until I knew my father was dead. War… sucked. A lot.

As the last of them fell, a loud commotion made me turn. Then I blinked slowly as I took in the scene. There was a corpse at my feet, clearly someone who had tried to attack me from behind. Blondie stood just behind it, splattered with still dripping blood, axe casually resting on his shoulder.

"Don't worry!" he declared with a grin. "Teach has your back!"

"I feel so protected," I instantly retorted, more because sarcasm was easy when startled than anything else. When he made a face, though, I did smile. "Thank you… Vaike. I do appreciate not having sharp things in my back."

"Figured as much." He shrugged. "You fight like you're expecting Chrom there. Or, well, someone. Just, you know, it's been Chrom. So you don't watch your own back that much, instead keeping an eye on other things. But, Chrom's not here. Figured he'd want me to make sure your sexy back stays unharmed."

"Sexy back?" I rolled my eyes and he laughed. "Oh, whatever. Thank you." I paused, realizing something. "Wait, how long have you…?"

"Pretty much since you left that fortress thing. I came with Lon'qu, but he ran ahead when we noticed they'd beaten us." He shrugged. "I've just been behind you."

"Oh." Now I squirmed a bit. "Thank you. Again."

Thankfully, I was saved from further embarrassment and awkwardness. A strangled cry caught my ear then, and I jerked my head up to see Chrom… on the back of the enemy general's wyvern, having run the general through, and stabbed the wyvern in the head. Falchion glowed in his hands as he twisted and tumbled off just before the wyvern crashed down on the edge of a cliff and slid off. Both the wyvern and the rider hit some rocks hard, and it they weren't already dead, they were then. The rocks were too sharp for them to survive an impact like that.

"Points for dramatics, Chrom," Blon… Vaike instantly deadpanned. I could only nod in agreement. "I'll get him."

"Thanks," I murmured. I… honestly wanted to run and check on him myself, but I could see that Lissa and Robin were heading over here, so I chose against it. "Really, thanks."

"No prob." He shrugged and walked off, nudging some nearby corpses to make sure they were dead. As he did, Lon'qu walked out of the ruined fortress, carefully leading Maribelle and Ricken out.

Lon'qu then had to jump out of the way as Lissa, in tears, ran up and snatched Maribelle in a hug. "I'm so glad you're safe!" she sobbed. "Are you hurt?! Are you okay?!"

"Nothing I did not return twofold, darling," Maribelle replied loftily. She patted Lissa on the back. "There, there. I'm okay, darling. I'm just fine."


"I'm fine, darling. Though, I would feel better if you smiled."

"My apologies for interrupting, but we might want to move to a slightly more secure area," Robin murmured as he walked to my side and gave me a quick hug. He met Maribelle's dirty look with ease. "Yes, I know you're not fond of me, but I'm glad to see you're safe nonetheless."

"Oh, it's not a question of fondness," she instantly replied. She glanced at the still crying Lissa. "I'm just protective of my dear Lissa." She squirmed, and it was clear these next words weren't something she really wanted to say. "I do… apologize… for being curt though. And… and you have my thanks for being part of my rescue."

"You don't have to-" Robin yelped as I nudged his side. "I mean… you're very welcome." He gave me a look and I rolled my eyes. "Oh, what did I do wrong this time?"

"Are… you two siblings?" Maribelle looked genuinely curious, while Lon'qu looked like he wanted to get the hell away from all us crazy people. "Lissa mentioned that his sister was joining the Shepherds as well…"

"We're twins, yes." Robin smiled, clearly quite proud of the fact. It made me smile. "Why?"

"Just… curious, really."

"All right?" Robin shrugged, and then glanced over to Ricken, who looked rather confused by everything. "Why is there a kid here?"

Ricken instantly squawked a protest, and I could only sigh. Here we go again.

The cliffs were dripping with blood. Corpses were piled from where they'd slid off the sides, but the terrain was still jagged enough that we could still reach them. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not, though. I did know that there were so many wounded that those with 'minimal' injuries were just being bandaged up, and that Lissa and Maribelle were the only 'healers' about. Of course, that part had been because a Plegian mage got lucky and landed a damn good fireball on our 'supplies' convoy, meaning that most of the weapons and staves in there were useless, and Lissa hadn't gathered extra staves before jumping into the fight. We lost a lot of people with the tomes went up and the magic went wild.

"We need better defenses for convoys," Chrom muttered. He held himself perfectly still as I worked on stitching up his side. He actually had wounds that would've 'qualified' him for a healing staff treatment, but he'd stubbornly refused, so here I was, making sure his side healed in one piece. "Tomes need their own section… spreading them out might just be a good idea in general…"

"Multiple tents for staves, at the least," I murmured. I reached up and tapped his arm with a bloody hand. "Shift your arm a bit more around me. How are you doing?"

"My arm is cramping, but that's it. The numbing herbs are still working." He sighed, and then winced. "Ow…"

"Focus on breathing as normally as possible. Your ribs are bruised." As could be expected. He'd killed the leader after letting their wyvern literally tackle him so he could swing up. "Reckless."

"It worked."

"And if it hadn't?"

"Well, I couldn't dodge anyway, thanks to my injured leg?" He smiled sheepishly as he used his free hand to point to it, like I hadn't bandaged it myself just a few minutes ago. "I mean; I could've ducked maybe, but wyverns have claws."

"Yes, they do." Though, the wound to Chrom's side wasn't from a claw, or even a weapon. He'd been hit when the tomes burned and the magic within them was released explosively, all because he'd gone to try and pull some people out of range. "Almost done."

"Thanks." His smile warmed. "Really, I appreciate it."

I said nothing in return, just focusing on stitching up the last of his injury before tying off the thread and starting to bandage him up. As I was tying it off, though, I winced, feeling pain ripple through my lower back. My own wounds did not like that I'd sat in one place.

I'd thought I'd hid my pain well, but as soon as I sat back, Chrom rested a hand on my shoulder and whispered, "did you get your own wounds treated?"

"Yes, I did," I murmured. I looked away as he looked more and more concerned. "I'm fine."

"...You mentioned, when we met, that Robin was a horrible liar and his most common one was 'I am fine'." Chrom squeezed my shoulder. "It seems to be your most common one as well."

"Really, I'm-"

"Let me see." He actually leaned down to catch my eye again, and gave me the most entreating look. "Please? You tended to mine. Let me make sure that yours are truly fine."

"You're really too kind."

"I see no kindness in simply wishing to take care of someone who takes care of me." He smiled slightly. "Please?"

"...Oh, I give up." I sighed, and turned around, pulling up my shirt to show him the injury on my back. "It's mostly a bruise with a bit of scraping."

"Actually, this looks like a gash." Chrom's hand gently touched my back, and I stiffened a bit from the pain. "Yeah, that's a gash. Here, I'll bandage it."

"Chrom, don't you-"

"Need to bandage you up, yes." He reached around me, already starting. "Unless… this might be bad enough to-"

"No healing staves. I don't want to waste the charge."

"Then deal with me bandaging you." He worked slowly, his touch incredibly gentle as he made sure the bandage was smooth and taut. It felt very… strange. I felt rather warm, all things considered, like I was resting in sunshine or… or something. It was very strange, and I found myself focusing a lot on his hands. More than I thought necessary, at least.

As he tied off the bandage, I murmured, "thank you." I glanced at him over my shoulder as he sat back and I dropped my shirt. "Really, thanks."

"It's no trouble," he reassured. He smiled warmly. "Oh, should we continue that debate on kindness?"

"We could, I suppose. I still say you're far too kind."

"And I say that you only think that because you haven't had a lot of kindness." He sulked a little. "Rather, I'd like to spoil you. And Robin." The way he mentioned Robin almost made it seem like Robin was an 'afterthought'. "But you always fuss."

"No shit, I do." I pouted at him. "You're a prince. You have duties that don't involve 'spoiling' a random mercenary."

"What's wrong with spoiling a friend, though? Especially one that has done so much for me." He hesitated a bit. "Though… um… maybe I'm the only one who…"

"N-no, you're not wrong. I think." I squirmed a little. "I've… only had Robin for so long. I'm not… good at friendship…"

"I think Sumia would disagree." He smiled brightly. "And Lissa. And Virion. And-"

"I'm stopping before you list off most of the Shepherds because I know that's what you plan."

"Damn." He laughed a little, but then he stiffened. I turned to see Emmeryn walk up, looking strangely hesitant. "Uh…"

"How are you two?" Emmeryn asked. She tried to smile, but it faltered. I knew today weighed heavily on her, and now, she wasn't quite certain what to do. Especially since Chrom had correctly predicted it wouldn't work. "I saw…"

"We're all bandaged," I replied. I stood up slowly, and Chrom followed suit. He tried to put his shirt back on, but winced a bit as he tried to move, so I helped him. Or, tried to. "How the hell do you wear this? Why, even?"

"It's not that hard." He laughed a little as I gave him an incredulous look. "See?" He held still as I finally got the shirt over his shoulders, and he deftly got his hand through the sleeves and buttoned it up. "Easy."

"Why is there only one sleeve?"

"One of the castle tailor's daughter designed it. She was so excited about it that I asked for some clothes made with the design. The people seem to like it."

"You are a total dork." A little bit of giggling made me turn, and I remembered Emmeryn was nearby. Now giggling at us. "Uh…"

"Sorry, I couldn't help it," she explained. She looked a little more relaxed now. "I remember that time. She was quite enthusiastic, though she's promised that her next one will be better and more… 'rational', I think she said?"

"Maybe two sleeves," Chrom joked. He stepped around me, towards Emmeryn, but then hesitated, and simply bowed his head. "I'm sorry, Emm. I acted rashly and…"

"No, no, Chrom, do not apologize." She closed the distance between them and gathered him into a hug. "You were only protecting Kestrel and me. King Gangrel is the one at fault."


"As I said before, he wanted a war, and he was getting one," I pointed out. I shook my head as he glanced at me. "I only snapped at you saying the declaration. It would've been better, politically and propaganda speaking, if Gangrel had said the official declaration. That's all." Honestly, both Emmeryn and Chrom unintentionally gave Gangrel all the openings he'd needed. Plegian morale would be very high. "If only…"

"If only what?" Emmeryn prompted. She smiled sweetly at me as she pulled away from Chrom. "Please. I'd love to hear."

"It's a fool's thought, really." Still, I shrugged. "I was thinking that if you could talk to them directly, Emmeryn, you might be able to win them. Most Plegians I've met are just… angry and sad. They don't know why someone wanted them dead, just for existing. They find it hard to believe you, because you are distant, and because you are your father's daughter." I smiled slightly. "But… maybe if you could talk to them, and show them how sincere you are…"

"It didn't work on Gangrel."

"Gangrel is a king. A king must take on his people's wishes and wills. In many ways, a king is the embodiment of the people and their emotions. Just like you." I made myself smile, thinking of what Frederick said, the day we met her. I still thought it madness, but… "You took on your people's longing for peace, which you saw even through their anger, yes? It's the same thing. Gangrel took on his people's anger, and the madness that comes with obsession and revenge. So, of course you couldn't change his mind; you have to change the minds of his people before he can even begin to listen."

"...That's…" Emmeryn suddenly started laughing, and I flushed in embarrassment. "For a traveler, you certainly have the mind of a queen."

"I'm trying to be nice, and you just tease me!" My blush darkened and I scowled. "I just read a lot! Or, you know, as much as I could, considering everything. That's all."

"I must read those books, then."

"...Yeah, sure, I'm in the middle of some very ribald tales."

"Oh, that one. I read it." She continued to laugh as I stared. "Quite thrilling."

"That's one way to put it." I relaxed slightly, thinking bitterly that for as much as I'd complained about the people not seeing the 'real' Emmeryn, I'd done a bit of the same. I'd never have guessed that serene and calm Emmeryn would read smut. "Anyway, just do what you do, Emmeryn. Your people love you dearly, and they love Chrom and Lissa too. You can fix this mess."

"Thank you." She smiled warmly, and I got a sense that this was her very real smile. "I'm glad you think it can be fixed. It gives me hope."

"Oh, you'd get it back before long." I shrugged, ducking my head as embarrassment flooded me again. It didn't help that Chrom was also smiling softly at me, a smile that lit up his whole face. "I just… rambled until something made sense."

"Sometimes, that's all that's needed." She looked to something behind me, and smiled slightly. "Ah, Frederick…"

"Forgive me for interrupting, but according to Phila, we're ready to depart," Frederick said, walking up. He stood at 'attention' when he stopped, and looked even more serious than usual. "The Mad King is rallying his forces, if they are not mobilized already. We must return to the capital at once, and discuss our strategy."

"Yes, we do," Emmeryn confirmed. Her face fell, though. "War is upon on. We must protect the people, with all that we are."

"We will, my lady. I promise."

"Yes…" Emmeryn still didn't look quite convinced, and I didn't blame her one bit. After all, despite my encouragement, I had a bad feeling of things to come. A very, very bad feeling.

...I was going to keep close to Emmeryn as we got back. Now would be the perfect time for an assassination.

Notes on Miriel

Class - Mage; Reclass - Dark Magic, Troubadour

The daughter of a very rich merchant and an acclaimed scholar, she'll sometimes talk as if she swallowed a damn dictionary and spit out every word in it. Also has some riding experience.

Fond of experimentation, to the point that she can actually be a bit of a ditz. Mostly because she just doesn't pay attention to anything but her studies, and she has zero common sense.

Highly perfectionistic, orderly, and efficient, she's probably the only reason why the barracks are in any way neat, and you can tell when she's been through.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6) Foreseer

War has officially been declared. Once again, the continent will be split. This time, though, it's even worse, as we've dragged Ferox into the mess. For the first time in a thousand years, the entire continent of Ylisse will be at war, and all because of one man's vendetta against Plegia, and Grima.

How did I go from traveling mercenary on the run to in the middle of one of the biggest conflicts in recent history?

The castle was in an uproar when we returned. The entire city, actually, was in a panic. Everyone knew. Everyone knew that we were going to war with Plegia once more. Which meant that as soon as we stepped inside the castle, Emmeryn and Chrom were being screamed at.

"How could you do this, your grace?!" "Your highness, how could you be so reckless?!" "Don't you know what this will do to the country?!" "How could you?!" Their shouts mushed together, and you could only get the idea of outrage, fear, and the desperate attempt to blame someone for the mess.

Frederick tried to push the rest of us Shepherds out of the way, as Emmeryn and Chrom dealt with the nobles. He even pushed away Lissa, who looked so tired, so resigned, and so aggravated. I gathered this was fairly typical. The sheltered princess, protected from everything. I wasn't sure if that was such a good idea. Being sheltered had caused my brother and I a lot of grief. It had cost others their lives.

Frederick nudged me, but I glanced back to where Emmeryn and Chrom were still being yelled at. Then, I snatched Lissa's hand, making her yelp, and I stormed right over to the group of nobles with her, ignoring Frederick entirely.

"Will you all shut the hell up?" I drawled, giving them my best exasperated look. The nobles reeled back, from the shock that someone like me would dare speak to them. "Stop trying to push the blame on a single person. This whole mess is your fault too. Or do you think the Plegians didn't notice the steadily rising tariffs some of you imposed on your goods?" I nudged Lissa towards her siblings and crossed my arms, meeting their outraged looks with ease. Far more ease than I should. I was bluffing. "I understand that Ylisse law lets you do that, so long as the increase is under a set percentage per year." Now that I did know, because some mercenaries I traveled with commented on how 'hands-off' Ylisse was with its nobles. This was why I was even doing this damn bluff in the first place. "But little things add up, and you have been reaping those benefits. Plegia notices."

"How dare you?" one hissed. A very portly looking man, whose shirt alone probably cost enough to buy a village food for a damn year. Indigo was a very expensive dye. "Who do you think you are, you-?"

"Insult her, and you insult me," Chrom instantly growled. He stepped around Emmeryn to stand in front of me protectively. The portly noble actually took a step back. "This is Kestrel, one of my Shepherds, and a dear friend."

"I'm also a traveler, so I actually know something about the world," I added. I felt strangely vindicated, for some reason. "Unlike you lot, you really like keeping to yourselves, and forcing Emmeryn to play the same games of manipulation and pretty poison words. Besides, were you so self absorbed that you didn't even hear of how the thing happened?" I hesitated only briefly before smiling at Lissa. Her eyes were wide, nervous, but sparkling with determination. She realized what I was doing, and loved it. "I'm sure Lissa can explain better than me."

"Well, I can certainly explain!" Lissa chirped. She put on her best smile as she looked at the gathered nobles, clasping her hands behind her back to hide how they shook. "This all happened because a village was attacked, and Maribelle went to help. Then she was captured, and used as a hostage!" Her voice shook, and she ducked her head. "Then there was some negotiations, only King Gangrel didn't want to negotiate. He wanted just to mock us. And maybe we made mistakes, but we are trying, you know?" She glanced up tentatively, and I smiled at how the other nobles squirmed. It was much easier to be mad at Emmeryn or Chrom; Emmeryn was calm, and Chrom had a temper. But Lissa was a sweetheart, and it was hard to be mad at someone who reminded you of a kitten. "They attacked first. Chrom might have said some… aggressive words, but it's only because they tried to kill Emmeryn and Kestrel! And then we got hit by a whole army!"

"He's had his army mobilized," Chrom whispered. He relaxed only slightly. "He went there ready for war. Unfortunately, we gave him the openings he needed. But now, we really need to plan for war. We don't have an army. I'll be heading to Ferox within the next few days to gain theirs. But we have work to do here."

"We must also calm the people," Emmeryn added. She smiled kindly at the nobles. "Please. They will be the ones suffering most from this. It is our duty to protect them, and we must do all we can." She shook her head and gestured to the hall. "Come, though. I will hear your complaints, providing you actually take turns so that I can understand." She easily led them down the hall, quite clearly in command once more.

As soon as they disappeared, Lissa buckled and I barely caught her before she fell. "Holy wow, that was something," Lissa laughed, the nervous sort of laughter of someone who didn't believe they pulled something off. "Ugh, I thought I was used to talking to people."

"You're probably not used to calming a crowd, though," I pointed out. I gave Chrom an exasperated look. "Although I don't know why. You've a sweeter face than those two."

"B-but Emm's pretty!"

"But she doesn't look all cute and innocent, and make you feel like you've kicked a kitten when you make her frown." I prodded Lissa's cheek for emphasis, and laughed as she squeaked. "Emmeryn is serene, and Chrom has a temper. They're easier to be mad at."

"I suppose?" Lissa looked confused, but then smiled brightly. "I helped~!"

"That you did," Chrom murmured. He smiled softly at her, and reached over to ruffled her pigtails, making her squeak. "I guess fifteen is old enough to be dragged into such things."

"I am a little tired of being shown the door," Lissa grumbled. She pouted up at him. "You've been helping Emm since you were like… ten! But whenever I try, you're both just like 'oh, you just need to smile!'."

"Well, it's true. You smile, and both of us feel like we're succeeding in what we do." Chrom grinned as she squirmed. "I just don't tell you because you normally try to hit me when I do."

"It's embarrassing!" She huffed before giggling. "Oh, whatever. I'm going to go to Maribelle. She's meeting her dad here." Lissa skipped off, humming to herself.

I laughed as I watched her leave, before glancing at Chrom. "I speak from experience when I saw sheltering proves detrimental," I explained. I felt I needed to. "So, I thought I'd drag her over. I was rather mad at them anyway."

"I wondered," Chrom whispered. Still, he smiled. "So, tariffs? Is that something I need to look into?"

"Maybe. I'd said it as a bluff, but they squirmed at it, so maybe I hit something there. Especially indigo fellow. He's clearly rolling in money."

"How can you tell by a look?"

"Indigo. Shirt. That shit is expensive." I nudged his side and pointed to his clothes. "So is blue. And a stark white cape."

"Okay, okay." He sighed. "Well, that's another thing on my list."

"Might I assist?"

"Don't you want to rest?"

"Don't you?" I smiled as he sighed again. "Come on. We'll drag Robin into it. I'm sure he's still up."

"Fine, I give." He even threw up his hands, and I laughed. "This way to the archives, then."

The three of us researched things in the archives for a good long while. I focused more on the tariffs, since I'd been the one to bring them up. Robin focused more on tactics Plegia had used in the previous war, and on the tactics favored by the Ylisseans and Feroxi. Chrom flipped through what supplies Ylisse had for a war effort, and making calculations of what all we'd need.

Some time after our third set of candles burned down to awkward piles of wax and wicks, Emmeryn and Frederick came in to chase us out. I tried to ignore them, but Frederick stole my notes from me to continue them himself. I tried to protest, but Emmeryn actually snagged me for tea in her room. Chrom and Robin, giving up on protesting, headed out to the courtyard for fresh air, and likely some heart to heart conversation.

"I do not think I've thanked you properly for all that you've done for us, Kestrel," Emmeryn murmured as she poured the tea, some sort of citrus blend based on the smell. "Duke Themis is hoping also to thank you personally for coming to Maribelle's rescue."

"I really don't need the thanks," I mumbled, feeling a bit awkward. I glanced around the room to try and hide it, though, and I noticed how… bare the room was. This was Emmeryn's personal room, yet there was next to nothing. A little table where we sat. A bed. Some simple lace curtains fluttering in the breeze, since the windows were open for fresh air. A couple of framed pictures. A book on the single pillow on the bed. A couple of flowers on the windowsill, in simple clear vases. That was it. "No dolls?"

"All my dolls went to Lissa. We didn't really have enough to justify buying new ones for her when she was born, since everyone was hurting. So, Chrom and I gave Lissa our toys instead." She sat back down and smiled sweetly at me. "I suppose I just never had time to really pick up trinkets. I have a separate room for jewelry, though."

"No presents from Chrom and Lissa?"

"I'm reading Chrom's latest present." She pointed to the book and laughed again. "The Exalt is expected to make a show. I like being surrounded by simple things. Chrom makes sure to get me simple things. Lissa likes bringing me flowers." She pointed to the flowers on the windowsill. "There's also the more extravagant things, but those are away from my personal chambers, like I said. Except for the tea." She made a little face. "I simply cannot stand bad tea. I can handle bad anything else, but not that."

"You've had to handle 'bad' anything?" I smiled slightly, noticing how relaxed she was. It was like 'The Exalt' had been left outside the room, and so, I spoke only to Emmeryn, 'The Girl'. The girl she might've been if she'd had an actual childhood. "I'm surprised."

"We have festivals, where Chrom and I serve as the 'final judges' for competitions. Pies, songs, poems…" She made another face and I burst into laughter, barely able to imagine it. "It is quite amazing how many ways you can butcher a pie."

"Chrom literally knocked Vaike out with whatever he made, so he has no right to complain." I relaxed slightly as she giggled. "So, did you bring me in to gossip or did you want to ask me something?"

"I did have one question." Her cheer faded slightly, but her eyes held only curiosity. "You were adamant in that we not give in to King Gangrel's demands. Why is that?"

"If he put on a show for the thing, clearly you need to not give in to him." My voice was drier than I wanted, but she simply sipped her tea, and waited. "If he wanted it that badly, it's likely something the Grimleal wanted. Which wouldn't be good."

"Why? What could they do with it?"

"..." I fiddled with my teacup, my stomach rolling. But I did need to… warn her… "Your father…" My voice rasped, and my hands began to shake. I set the teacup down and clasped my hands to hide it. "He either had a good reason to launch his assault, or got damn lucky."

"He… what?" Emmeryn looked genuinely startled. "What do you mean?"

"I…" My mouth was dry, and my voice was raspy. I wanted to stop. I didn't want to remember. I didn't want to reveal my past, especially to an Ylissean. But I… I needed to trust 'someone' with this knowledge. I couldn't be the only one to know. "The Grimleal… well, he shouldn't have turned it all on Plegia. He was wrong on that. All Plegians are technically part of the religion, but most of them just think it's… lip service. Plegia is a theocracy, and all, and someone has to pay tribute to destruction." Though, given the Grimleal and their curses, I honestly wouldn't be surprised if there was a little bit of mental manipulation there. "There's a strong belief of 'fate' and 'destiny' in Plegia as well, so many think that it's actually Naga in the wrong, for going against destiny. For changing fate. And there's more complicated things too. I mean; Plegia is a country full of people. People are complicated."

"Yes, they are. Though, I hadn't known Plegians had such a strong belief in fate."

"How strong depends on the region, and even whether one is 'noble' or in the slums. Which, I mean, you see in most countries. The well-off go 'this is the will of the gods and you are horrible to try to change it'. Why would they want to change it? They benefit from how things are."

"I suppose." She gave me a calm look. Not pressing, but with a distinct air of how she knew I was stalling.

I squirmed a bit before continuing. "What most people don't know is… that the Grimleal, the higher ranked members, those of the Inner Circle… they are actually planning on bringing Grima back."

"...Would he not come back normally?" Emmeryn looked confused then. "The stories all say that Naga told the First Exalt to ensure the Falchion and Fire Emblem remained safe, as darkness would come once more."

"No offence, but if we go look at history, that's not some great prophecy. That's just logic. You had Medeus thrice, back when this continent was known as Archanea. Then you had Grima, who just popped out of freaking nowhere." No one had any idea. Just one day, a gigantic flying dragon, larger than a castle, emerged from Dragon's Table and began annihilating everything. Some thought he was born from the Earth Dragons, sealed beneath the Table, but no one knew. "But even Medeus didn't come back alone, Emmeryn. He came back through someone's use of dark magic."

"That… is true." She hummed a little in thought. "I suppose our ancestors simply… misinterpreted. The world is a cycle of light and dark."

"Or she saw the future. Who knows? Point is, Grimleal? Trying to bring back Grima. Resurrect him. Meaning that… even though he went way overboard, and even though he targeted the wrong people… your father did have cause for attacking." I paused, thinking. "Though, overboard. Killed a bunch of people who had no clue. Nearly destroyed his own country in his well-intentioned madness. And, you know, he might've just gotten lucky with his bigotry."

"He still left quite a mess for me, and for Chrom." Emmeryn fell silent, sipping her tea. I tried to mirror her movements, but my hands were still shaking, and the tea was cold. It felt like a lump of ice, and I tasted nothing but my nerves. "If this is such a secret, then…"

"How do I know?" My voice shook again. "It's… simple. I was… I was born into it. The Inner Circle. My parents were… high ranked members of the Grimleal." My father was the Hierophant, the leader, inherited from his own father as a failed Vessel. Mom had been the High Priestess of Shadows, the second highest rank among the Grimleal, a rank she had earned through her skill, cunning, and power. That was why the two had been wed, and the Grimleal had looked to Mom as their salvation when she gave birth to two Vessel, the elder of which was a 'perfect' Vessel. Then she'd run, taking us with her. "So, I… was raised among them, until our father tried to…" Tried to 'start' the Awakening, and it failed, but it cursed Robin with white hair and a frail disposition. They had been missing something. I wondered now if the Fire Emblem had been that 'something'. "Sacrifice us. To Grima."

"Sacrifice?!" She looked so alarmed that I burst into laughter. "I… I fail to see how that's funny!"

"I've spent most of my damn life knowing that I was born to be a sacrifice, Emmeryn. I was literally born to serve Grima." To be a Vessel. To be broken into his right hand general while he used Robin's body as his own. "The only person who protested was Mom. She took us and ran, using the war as cover. She ran and ran, fought and fought." But she had sheltered us too much, and so, when she had died, Robin and I had known next to nothing. "It's a disbelieving laugh. I'm surprised someone else cares."

"That's…" She shook her head. "Why? Why would he…?"

"I…" I hesitated a bit more. I was so scared. But I… I had to trust, right? I had to. Being the only one to bear this knowledge… someone else had to. I didn't know how to bear it all alone. "...Naga…" My voice shook so much. "Naga isn't… the only one with… a bloodline…"

"A bloodline? What would that…?" Her eyes widened, and her hand came up to touch the Mark on her forehead. "Grima has a… and you and Robin…?"

"...Yeah…" I ducked my head, tense enough to shake. I was terrified. Was she going to scream? Was she going to condemn me? Was she going to throw me to the wolves? Probably not, she was peaceful. Would she tell me to leave, though? I wasn't sure I wanted to.

There was the sound of movement and, to my utter shock, I soon felt her wrap her arms around me in a very, very warm hug. "Oh, Kestrel…" She kissed the top of my head, and I was so reminded of Mom that I felt a near overwhelming urge to cry. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry you had to deal with all of this."

"...You're not…"

"Of course not. You're a wonderful person. A wonderful and kind person who has done so much for us. If anything, you are simply proof that just because someone is of the dark, they do not have to be evil. Darkness is not inherently bad, nor is light inherently good. We need only look to my own father for proof of the latter, even if there was some justification to his madness." She tightened her hug and, hesitantly, I leaned into her, closing my eyes. "You will always have a home here, Kestrel. Never doubt that."

"Even if people come after Robin and me?"

"You think Chrom and the rest of the Shepherds will let anyone hurt you?" She pulled away and crouched down slightly, wiping my face with her sleeve. There weren't tears, but I knew the motion was more symbolic anyway. She was 'wiping away' all the tears I'd shed in the past. "Truthfully, I'm not sure they'll just let you leave either. They love you and Robin."

"Everyone's weird."

"Weird is good, though." She smiled warmly. "It's weirdness that pushes for change."

"What about brokenness?"

"They're the ones who know what needs to be changed, to make the world a little better." She laughed a bit. "Which is what we need to do. We make the world a little better for those who come next. Each generation makes things better. Sometimes, we misstep and fall backwards, but we keep going."

"...I don't know if that's profound or naive." I still smiled back at her, though. "I like it."

"I'm glad. Phila tends to give a 'that's nice, your grace'." She made a little face, and I laughed. "Ah, but that's enough of serious talk. I'll warm the tea back up, and I did want to talk with you about the Ribald tales, and ask you a bit about Chrom."

"About Chrom?" That confused me, and for some reason, my voice went a little squeaky. She giggled in response. "H-hold on, why would-?"

Everything after that was a bit of a blur. I caught a shadow in the window, and immediately lunged to tackle Emmeryn. Just in time, as two arrows thudded into the knocked over table. Strangely, nothing shattered, maybe because of the rug I hadn't noticed, but the tea certainly created a very odd stain on said rug. I automatically reached for my sword, before realizing I didn't have it. I'd given it to Virion for maintenance.

A figure in a brown cloak and dark armor appeared on the windowsill, knocking over the vase. That one shattered, the water and glass shards glinting eerily in the moonlight, but the assassin didn't seem to notice. Whoever it was focused solely on Emmeryn, which told me a few things, mostly that this assassin's target was Emmeryn. Not me. And likely a fairly new one, since they didn't seem to think I was a threat.

So, I glanced around, noticed that they were still dramatically on the window, and then rushed them, shoving them out the window. They yelped, and flipped, catching the sill. I snagged a glass shard and stabbed their hand, though, and they fell with a little scream.

I tossed the shard after them, and leaned over the sill a bit, noticing that the courtyard below was swarming with people in dark armor. Then I rocked back on my heels, and turned to the very startled Emmeryn. "It seems Plegia sent assassins after you," I told her. "I wouldn't be surprised if they sent them after Chrom and Lissa as well. Nothing will destabilize Ylisse better than the royal family dying, and…"

"And my father did the same to Plegia's previous royal family," Emmeryn whispered. She gradually regained her calm. "Though, I suppose he missed one?"

"Gangrel is from the slums. He won the favor of the Grimleal, and they instated him as king. Your father was very thorough in killing of the Plegian Royal family. Perhaps he thought they were the ones in charge of the resurrection. Or he just wanted to wipe out the Plegians."

"Ah." She pushed herself up and brushed off the front of her skirt. "There's a suit of armor not far away from here. You can probably take the sword?"

"Sounds good." I already started for the door. "Let's find the others."

The entire place was chaos. The bodies of dead soldiers and servants littered the halls. We found Frederick fairly quickly, though, and Phila. Phila was quickly sent to take care of the ones outside, while Frederick joined me in trying to find a defensible room for Emmeryn and trying to find the others. We seemed to just find more assassins, though, and my borrowed sword was soon dripping with blood. I was incredibly, incredibly jumped.

So, that was why I nearly decapitated Chrom. In my defense, though, he nearly did the same with me. We stared at each other for a long moment, our swords at each others' neck, not quite comprehending who we were looking at, only that there wasn't any danger. For now.

"Hey, she's pretty, but now isn't the time to have a moment." The voice was light, feminine, and a little sarcastic, and someone stepped up, someone with long blue hair and matching eyes. "My pardon, my lady," she continued, focusing on me. She pulled her hair in front of her left eye, and I noticed it was a slightly lighter shade of blue. Some regions had a prejudice against heterochromia, believing that they were children possessed by demons. I guessed she'd dealt with that. "Things have been rather hectic."

"Clearly," I replied, my voice just as sarcastic. I brought my sword back down my side and focused on her. We were about the same height, I noticed absently, but my eyes focused more on the diadem she wore. That, and the clothes, told me who this was easily. "Well, Marth, it seems you pulled the same trick I used to."


"Pretending to be male. Though, how did you tuck your hair up?" It was quite long, mid-back. Though, there was something else that bothered me. "Oh, wait, your diadem is messed up." Automatically, I reached up to fix it, and Marth just simply stared at me. "...Sorry. It's been an intense few hours."

"N-no, it's fine!" She squeaked and ducked her head. "My hair is layered. So, a friend helped me tuck and pin the longer strands."

"Oh, and then a sudden movement dislodged them? Probably the same one that removed your mask?" I moved behind her and caught some of the pins still dangling in her hair. I picked them out, and she squirmed. "...I really should ask first."

"No, it's fine!" Her ears were red. "B-but… um… assassins?"

"Right." I looked up, and noticed Chrom and Emmeryn were hugging, while Frederick and Robin whispered. "What's the plan, boys? I'm glad you're not dead, by the way, Robin."

"Glad to be acknowledged!" Robin laughed. His eyes danced, letting me know the words were teasing. "Frederick says there's a good room this way. It has a window, so we'll need two guards, but it's the best option from here."

"Good to hear," I replied. I fluffed Marth's hair a bit, to make sure there were no more pins. "Has anyone found Lissa?"

"Not yet, but I'm not as worried. The least skilled were probably sent at her, and she was last seen in the barracks with the rest of the Shepherds." Robin's smile faltered. "But I would like to get that confirmed. But first, that room."

We moved quickly and easily. Marth kept close to me, for some strange reason, and a couple of times, I almost thought I felt her reach for my hand. But each time, she pulled away, and there really wasn't a chance to ask her about it. Especially once we got into the room.

"Is this really the best room?" I whispered, wincing as the sounds of battle echoed in. We were in a corner room, and not that far from the battle. "Well, it's easily defensible, I suppose." I still wasn't comfortable, especially since it had already been determined that Marth and me were guarding Emmeryn here.

"That it is," Chrom agreed. He glanced around slowly, sighing a little. "Emm's trying to convince Frederick to take us and run."

"...No offense to her, but she's met Frederick, right?" I smiled slightly as he snickered. "Though, knowing Frederick as I do, which is admittedly not much…" I gestured around the room. "Is this really the best spot?"

"It is, given one little thing." Chrom moved a little closer, and pulled me towards the corner of the room. "There's a hidden door here." He gestured to where it was before pointing to a little candlestick not far from it. "Pull that down, and the door will open. It leads all the way outside the palace. If you get overrun, take Emm and Marth and run. Regroup with Phila outside."

"So that's the main reason." I bit my lip, thinking quickly. "How many people know of this?"

"Very few, and most of those who know were told in the last days of my father's reign." He smiled a little. "You're actually the first person I've told."

"I can't decide if I'm flattered by that trust, or if I want to bat at you for telling me, instead of waiting for Emmeryn to show me."

"It's just us, here." His smile widened slightly and he stepped back, looking at Frederick and Robin. "So, have you two finished with the pointless arguing yet? I'd like to see who else is fighting. I'm hoping it's my Shepherds."

"They're done," Robin answered for them. He emphasized it by grabbing Frederick's arm and pulling him towards the door. "We'll see you three later!" The three left quickly, likely to avoid Emmeryn sulking at them.

She sighed heavily, shaking her head. "Oh, goodness, why don't they listen?" she murmured, clasping her hands. "My life is not worth theirs…"

"That's not for you to decide," I replied. She gave me a curious look. "A person determines their self-worth, but whether or not they are 'worth' hell? That's not for them to decide. That's for the people around them. It's a testament to how much they love and respect you." I smiled slightly. "Well, I don't have a right to talk. I get in little arguments with Chrom over how he's too kind to me." We fell silent then, mostly because we had no idea how to keep the conversation going. Especially since the sounds of battle quickly became even fiercer. Yet here we were, stuck in this room, unable to join.

I hunted around, looking for something to comment on, and I noticed Marth was fiddling with something. I studied it a moment before I realized that I knew her necklace. I wore one like it, the 'traveler's protection' charm from the Feroxi girl.

"I see you got one too," I whispered to her. I pointed to her necklace when she gave me a confused look. "It's a charm for safe travels, right? Did a little girl give it to you? I got mine from her; her mother made beautiful necklaces in the market."

"Oh, no, I…" Marth hesitated before continuing. "My mother… gave it to me. Before she died."

"...I'm sorry for bringing it up."

"No, no, I don't mind." She smiled, and the smile was warm, if pained. "I love my mother. I don't mind remembering her. If I could only have half as much strength as she…"

"Try not to put your mom on a pedestal so much." I smiled wryly, thinking of my own. "She was human. You are too. Besides, the best way to get damage on a person is through momentum."


"Yeah, like what Chrom did to flip you. That's my trick. You block and twist them off balance, and then let their momentum cause the damage needed to take them out." I shrugged. "I block and counter frequently too, but really, if you manage to get enough speed and momentum on a strike, forget strength."

"...Oh." She smiled shyly. "My mother… mentioned she used a foe's weight against them."

"Smaller people tend to do that. Lower center of gravity and all. More stable." I glanced back at Emmeryn, who listened with rapt attention. "You want to learn, Emmeryn?"

"I… well…" Emmeryn began. She sighed, though, and shook her head. "I'd… better not. I even gave up my mage training to learn how to be a cleric to show how determined I was to atone for my father."

"It's still good to know how to defend yourself," I pointed out. Still, I smiled and shrugged. "Then again, you're devoted to pacifism. It's hardest when people are trying to kill you."

"Yes, but I… I do believe in it. So, I must serve as an example." She laughed, but it was surprisingly bitter. "Perhaps I am a poor ruler. I went from one extreme to the other, but a ruler should be more… flexible. For the sake of the people." Her eyes were sad, but resolute. "But, I'll stick with this course. I do not think it is a wrong one."

"...That went way more philosophical than I expected." I grinned and she smiled sheepishly. "Relax, Emmeryn. You can have an existential crisis later, when everyone is fine."

A small commotion caught our attention then, and Marth and I peeked out the door to see that there was a woman wearing unusual purple armor and patches of fur in random places speaking to Chrom. Her eyes were harsh and cold, and I noticed her twin braids were two colors, with a noticeably pale streak strangely going straight through, like the braids were actually wrapped around something.

"Oh, Panne…" Marth breathed. She looked conflicted. "Damn, she's earlier than I thought she'd be."

"You knew she was coming?" I asked, giving her a skeptical look. "Really?"

"Yes?" She hesitated a bit. "I… know the future?"

"Oh, Foresight. I'm told it's quite the 'gift'." I shrugged, sighing, and Marth gave me a startled look. "It's a lesser known magic, but one nonetheless. Go on and reassure Chrom. Don't worry. He'll believe you."

"...Okay." She gave me a smile, far brighter than I would've thought, and scampered over to where this 'Panne' and Chrom were.

The sound of stone grinding on stone caught my ear, and I turned, frowning. Emmeryn also looked confused, and then turned her attention to the hidden door in the corner. Only the door was hidden. It was opening.

I took a step forward, intending on grabbing Emmeryn and running, but then I froze as the door fully and I saw just who was there. I… knew him. I knew the robes he wore, the Ceremonial Robes, worn when delivering a sacrifice to Grima. I knew the headpiece he wore, the 'crown' of the Hierophant. He had white in his beard now. He had grey hair at his temples. There were some lines in his harsh, smirking face.

"Well, well… aren't I lucky today?" he whispered. His eyes flicked over to me, and the smirk grew. "Aversa told me that you were here, my little fledgling." He brought up his hand as I still tried to process what was going on, and I felt a sensation of icicles sinking into my head, my mind, and holding me in place. "Stay. Still."

Mental manipulation. It was a curse taught only to two people among the Grimleal: the Hierophant and the High Priestess. It was Grima's greatest 'gift' to his bloodline. Technically, Robin and I could do it, but we didn't know how. Mom had never taught us, and I was glad for it, even if it might've made some things easier.

But the curse was a strong one, and my father was a particularly skilled practitioner, since he'd been so close as a Vessel. I was of his blood, meaning he didn't even need to say a word to use it on me. He simply had to call on that shared blood and let it be the catalyst instead.

"Let her be." Emmeryn's voice cracked through the air, and I'd never heard her speak so coldly before. "You may do what you wish with me, but leave her alone," she whispered, giving Validar a calm look that had all the fire and fierceness of a glare. "If you wish to kill me, then get on with it."

"Oh, I do, but if that was all that I wanted, I would've sent someone else," my father replied. He chuckled and the sound made my skin crawl. "I wanted to retrieve my escaped fledgling."

Fledgling, fledgling. It had always been his name for me. Mom had named Robin and me, but he had been the one to nickname us. I had been 'his little fledgling', the one he'd praised with great enthusiasm. 'His little fledgling', who he'd sneak out of lessons and out of the temple, the Table, to show the sun and the sparkling sands of the Plegian desert. 'His little fledgling', who he'd hold and whisper stories long after Mom had decreed it was time for bed. 'His little fledgling', who he'd help set up little pranks on the others and laugh at their squeaks and squawks. 'His little fledgling', who he'd hold up high and show the stars. 'His little fledgling', who he happily declared would be one to 'usher a new age upon the world!'.

'His little fledgling', who stupidly thought he loved her, and not who she was 'destined' to become.

"Kestrel is her own self." Emmeryn's words were still quiet yet fierce. "Not yours."

"Yes, she is mine." My father's words were haughty, mocking. I hated it. I hated him. "She is mine. Mine by blood."

"If I…" I hissed, anger flooding me. All those times, all the pain… "Oh, if only I could rip your blood out of my veins!" That anger gave me courage, and the strength to push through his curse. "My life would've been so much easier if I didn't have your cursed blood!"

"Hush, fledgling," my father replied, pressing the curse deeper into my head. Trying to make me pliant. But it wouldn't work. The resistance, the life, the stamina that made me an 'imperfect' Vessel meant I could resist him too! "Let me finish here, and then we'll go home."

"In case you haven't notice, bastard, I'm not a fledgling anymore !" I lunged forward, pushing all the strength I could into my legs to get momentum. I crashed into my father, and we crashed through the cracked window with a far too loud shatter. Shards dug into my skin and down, down, down we fell, towards the courtyard below with Emmeryn's terrified scream echoing somewhere behind us.

As I fell, I thought of Robin. I thought of Chrom. I thought of Sumia and Lissa and Virion. Frederick, Sully, Stahl. Miriel, Lon'qu, Vaike. Maribelle, Ricken. I thought of all of them, and I realized, just before I hit, that despite making a suicide pact, despite planning this moment to happen for years, I… I didn't actually want to die. I didn't want to die.

I hit the ground hard, and white hot pain screamed up my arm and leg. I gasped, tears pricking my eyes as I struggled to stand, or even just push myself up. It took a second for me to realize why I struggled since shock and pain made my brain hazy, but I'd broken my arm and a leg. I likely had at least cracked some ribs, and if I didn't have internal bleeding… well, if I didn't, it was because I was a vessel, and not quite human.

I maneuvered my unbroken arm under me, and I slowly, shakily, pushed myself to a sitting position, slipping in little pools of my own blood. I nearly gagged when I saw my leg, with bone jutting out in random spots; I decided against looking at my arm. Instead, I focused everything on breathing. It hurt, each breath like a dagger through my chest.

But raspy gasps reminded me that I hadn't been the only one who had fallen through the window, and I turned to see my father was also desperately trying to right himself. It looked like his arms were intact, but both of his legs had broken, and he slowly tried to drag himself towards something. It took me an instance to realize it was his tome, but not the Elfire tome he'd used before. It was the tome I most associated with him, the tome of the Hierophant. 'Grima's Truth', a dark magic tome crafted in the image of the legendary 'Book of Naga' and the infamous 'Loptyr' tome, from the Jugdrali tales. It was a tome said to channel the power of the Fell Dragon, and I could believe it. After all, my father was a failed vessel, but even that gave some benefits.

He reached out towards it, gasping and wincing. But the tome was closer to me, and so, even with his 'head start', I still reached it first. I snatched it from him and opened it up on my unwounded leg, vision graying as I stared at his wide-eyed, pain filled face. Then, I laughed. I laughed and laughed, and it was near hysterical, thin and wheezy. But it was a laugh, and it made his eyes widened even further.

"Well, this is fitting," I hissed, snarling at him. I ran my fingers over the pages, feeling them spark into life. This was probably a spell I could cast even without a tome, but it was still nice to have a catalyst. "Finally, I get to kill you."

"Kestrel… fledgling…" he rasped. He tried to push himself back. He tried to push himself up. But his arms shook too much. He could only lie there, and plead for his life. "Wait! This is… it has been written, and you must…!"

"I. Don't. Care." The magic flared into life, and whipped around me. In the dark shadows, I saw gleaming red eyes and heard an echoing chuckle rumble deep in my spirit. Grima. But I had resisted him as a child. I could resist him now. "I don't know what god listens to a Grimleal's prayers, but you might want to pick one." I held my hand out in front of me, and focused the spell. "They might grant you mercy, because I sure as hell won't!"

I launched the spell, and his screams of pain echoed throughout the courtyard. I held the magic on him, watched it tear into his body, until the screams ended. Then, hesitantly, I let the spell go and tossed the book to the side. It 'clanged' against something, and I turned to see my sword was actually near. A damn miracle it hadn't impaled me.

I scooted over to it and picked it up with my unbroken hand, smiling bitterly. I had hoped that I could kill him by the blade, a skill I had learned away from him, but I supposed that I had to take what I was given. Killing him with his own tome had a certain bit of… poetic justice, I supposed.

I stiffened, though, as I heard another low chuckle. I looked around wildly, completely numb to the pain and certainly on the edge of fainting. I found no source, and I focused on my father. His body was bloody, but perhaps… perhaps…

I slid forward and swung, stabbing his body. I thought I heard the laughter just… increase, and I kept on stabbing. Again, and again, and again. No resistance. Blood flying. No signs of life or breath, and yet, I swore I kept hearing laughter. So, I kept stabbing, desperately trying to stop the laughter, terrified that my father was still somehow alive, somehow haunting me, somehow still managing to make my life miserable.

Then something snagged my arm, and I nearly screamed. But then I heard, "Kestrel, it's me." Chrom's voice, calm and soothing. "It's just me. He's dead."

"C-chrom?" I whispered, my voice cracking. I blinked slowly up at him, not quite processing. "I'm hallucinating."

"That's the pain," he replied. He pried the sword out of my hand and picked me up by the waist, setting me gently on the edge of some sort of garden box. Away from the body. I could see only him as he peered at me worriedly. "There's a lot of-"

"Emmeryn." I thought of her scream. 'How is she?"

"She's just fine."


"Just fine."


"Just fine, as you can see."


"Just fine."


"Kestrel." He gave me a fondly exasperated look. "Everyone is just fine. We're getting a count on the injured, and dead, but all the Shepherds are alive. Providing that we get you to a healer quickly." He glanced down at the ground, and I saw all the blood splattered against the stone. "You're badly injured."

"Yeah, I suppose…" My voice cracked, and I found myself crying. "I… I was scared… I was so scared…"

"...Yeah, I can imagine." He hesitated before leaning forward and wrapping a careful arm around me. "I was scared too. I was coming to tell Emm about Panne and Gaius, and I got there and… and… all I could do was watch as you fell, and you just… and you were the one who went through it."

"No, this is pathetic." I weakly batted at his shoulder with my unbroken hand. It was so hard to move. Everything felt so heavy. "This is your fault."

"That you went through the window?"

"That I was scared!" My voice cracked again, and some part of me thought I was being completely unreasonable. "I didn't used to be scared of dying! I didn't used to care! Now I do! It's your damn fault!"

"...Well, I'd apologize, but I rather like you being alive, so…" He pulled away slightly and smiled at me sheepishly. "I can't say I'm unhappy about you being scared of dying."

"It's your fault." I felt like a child, lashing about. "And why are you being so damn kind?"

"This argument again?"

"I just mutilated a corpse!"

"Well… yes…" He did look a bit uncomfortable and, conversely, that actually soothed me. He wasn't blindly giving kindness. He was choosing. "But Emmeryn mentioned he knew you? You knew him? It was a bit hard to understand. She mostly just pleaded that I go after you. Maribelle wasn't far behind me, she was yelling at me about Gaius for some reason, so I'm sure she'll be here soon." His hand ghosted over a couple of my bleeding gashes, and I shivered, despite how warm those spots actually felt. "Regardless, if you knew him, and he's Plegian… well, I can take a guess. Someone related to your father?"

"...That is my father." I leaned into his shoulder, still crying, and now, too tired to care. "I killed him. And then mutilated the corpse."

"Well, I think that can be forgiven, given what bits you've told me." He said the words lightly, so lightly that I knew, knew, this was him making a choice. This was him, choosing to believe in me, trust in me. I thought it horribly naive, but it was so him, that I couldn't help but smile anyway. "I mean; I've cracked my father's tombstone in anger."

"How the hell did you manage that?"

"Falchion." His hand came up and gently threaded through my hair. "Just hang on a bit longer, Kestrel. I can see Maribelle. She'll heal you."

"I'm not so easy to kill." I laughed bitterly. "If only…"

"I'm glad. I rather like you." There was an awkward pause at the end of that, and it made the sentence heavier than it should. "Don't pass out. Just stay right here."

"I'm clearly not going anywhere. I have a broken leg." I did close my eyes, though. It made the world spin a little less, and I could focus on his hand through my hair. It was nice. "Stop fretting. I'm alive, and that bastard is dead. Emmeryn is safe."

"For now."

"Well, yeah, it's a war, and there's clearly a traitor." I could think of no other reason for why they managed to get so deep into the castle so quickly. "I'm tired."

"Stay awake a little longer, please. They're almost here."

"Fine." I sighed heavily, and winced as the pain flooded me again. Pain meant I was still alive. I couldn't decide if I liked that or not. "Meanie."

"The kindest meanie?"

"Yeah, sure." I lifted myself up as I finally heard footsteps, and managed a smile for Maribelle as she raced up and began fussing over me. I managed to stay conscious long enough for them to set my bones, but that's when the pain took me and I blacked out.

And as I fainted, I swore I saw red eyes in the darkness, and thought that maybe, my nightmare wasn't over quite yet.

When I woke, I went to work, getting away with it because no healers happened to be around at the time. My bones creaked and popped with each movement, and my muscles were stiff, a lingering effect of healing broken bones. I could breath, though, and I could move. That was enough to move the wounded into the infirmary, and to move the dead out of the way.

Marth disappeared in all the chaos. Chrom apparently hired a thief named Gaius for a ridiculous price. Then there was the mysterious Panne, who I knew less than nothing about, but who also helped move the dead. Of course, she more flung them to the side, but she still took the heavier ones. I glowered at those who tried to complain. Not all cultured places any importance on a corpse. There were some regions where the body was considered only an empty husk. Besides, she treated the dead children gently. I thought that counted a lot more than an adult in heavy armor.

At some point during all of this, Panne went to go talk to Emmeryn. I'd ended up following, to make sure that no one tried to yell at her. To my surprise, Robin was with Emmeryn when we arrived. He looked as surprised to see me.

"Chrom, Lissa, and Maribelle were just panicking because you weren't in the infirmary," Robin scold, giving me a stern look. I gave him an exasperated one in response. "You nearly died."

"But I'm not dead or dying now, and there are others who are," I replied dryly. I moved my arm, wincing as it creaked, popped, and twinged. "Just some minor pain. It's nothing I can't handle."


"I'll get checked again once things calm down, but right now, that bed is needed for someone with their guts spilling out." The assassins had cut through everyone mercilessly. When I'd left, a healer was trying to save a child's eye, the son of one of the servants. He'd been stabbed for being 'in the way' of their path to the barracks, and Lissa. "Gods, this is a mess. The city is in an uproar."

"Yes, I sent Frederick and Phila to help calm them," Emmeryn murmured. She smiled tiredly at us, and I knew she'd been in the infirmary too. I could tell by the blood staining her clothes, and the little patches on her hands she hadn't quite managed to rinse off. "But we are far off topic." She turned her smile towards Panne, who watched us all warily. "Brave taguel, I wished to thank you."

"You know our true name?" Panne replied. She looked… tiredly surprised. I was more startled that there was a taguel even alive, but it certain explained her different garb. I wondered if the 'pale streak' through her braids were actually her ears. "Huh. I didn't expect that."

"Taguel?" Robin repeated. He tilted his head curiously, his eyes lighting up at the thought of learning something. "What's a taguel?"

"I am a taguel. We are… were… shapeshifters. Your kind called us 'beast' or 'coney' in the midst of their hunt." She snarled. "I only helped because my warren owed a debt. Do not think us friends, you and I!"

Robin frowned. "I don't understand."

"Yes, there is precious little that your kind understands." Panne snarled again. "So very little."

"While I'm certain your words are truth, I beg you to not judge my friends by my words." Robin, however, kept perfectly calm. "I suffer from amnesia, and thus, I am relearning the world. I've not yet learned anything about the taguel, and I apologize for that." Robin looked to me. "So, sister? Do you know what she's talking about?"

"There's really not much to understand in this circumstance," I replied, crossing my arms. My muscles protested the movement, and I had a feeling I'd be in a lot more pain later. But for now, I was fine. "Basically, two generations ago, roughly, humans decided to have themselves a taguel hunt. Something about their eyes, blood, hearts, or whatever having special magical properties. But really, it was because they were 'different' and 'terrifying'. So, they were massacred." I ignored Emmeryn's gasp of horror, except for a brief exasperation of how sheltered Ylisseans could be. One history book I'd read hinted her grandfather had encouraged the behavior, quietly. "From what I was told, the 'hunts' were justified by the taguel being 'sub-human', little better than beasts. People are much quicker to kill those they think are lesser or, at least, 'not them'." I shrugged. "Unless you were wondering about the debt she was talking about, Robin. My guess is it has something to do with the First Exalt."

"Yes, that is correct," Panne confirmed. She gave me a curious look. "You know more than most man-spawn."

"I travel. You hear a lot of stories of taguel in Plegia, since they sympathize with someone trying to slaughter you just for existing." I smiled slightly at her scoff. "You may think it mad, and I do not blame you. But there are many 'sole survivors' of villages in Plegia."

"Perhaps." She nodded reluctantly. "It is the nature of man-spawn to destroy all they touch, even each other. A base desire to bring ruin to everything." She snarled once more, and I tried not to flinch. I, after all, was 'fated' to bring an end to everything, alongside Robin. "You're all the same."

"There is… truth in your words, perhaps," Emmeryn murmured. She looked ready to cry. "The words may come too late, and mean too little, but I am deeply sorry. What little I know of the taguel shows mankind had much to learn from them. I am sorry that we stole your family from you, and made the world a lesser place."

"You claim to be blameless, and yet apologize?" Panne scoffed. "Your words are like the wind, but more useless."

"I know." Emmeryn gave her a sad smile. "But I am afraid they are all I have." She and Panne simply stared at each other for a long moment. No words. Only silence.

But then, Panne actually started laughing. "You seem sincere, man-spawn. You look at my pain and see it for what it is. You look at me, and see what I am." She shook her head, as if she thought she was going mad. "I will never trust mankind. But perhaps I can learn to trust you."

"I am honored you would give me the chance." Emmeryn's smile widened. "I shall do my best to earn it."

She and Panne talked more. Robin wandered off, to deal with something, but I watched them interact, smiling slightly. This… just proved my belief. If the people of Plegia could just hear her, they'd see that sincerity too. It was a shame that it would likely never happen.

I'd been right. At some point after everything had calmed, my leg and arm began reminding me that they'd been broken, and did not appreciate being overworked so soon after being mended. I'd tried to just go to sleep anyway, but it had been too much, so I'd gotten up and tried to hobble over to the infirmary. Then I'd promptly gotten lost. Again.

"...What are you doing up?" Then, of course, I'd run straight into a very tired looking Frederick. "It's late," he scolded. "You should be asleep. Everyone's on edge given the attack."

"I was just trying to get pain medication so that I could sleep," I replied with a sigh. I winced as my leg protested again. It really didn't like me right now. "And I got lost. This castle is too big." The Shepherds were staying the castle again tonight, just in case there was a second attack.

"...The infirmary is still full, but I keep some in my room. It isn't far from here."

"Of course you keep pain things in your room. You clear pebbles from the path."

"Pebbles can be quite dangerous." He smiled slightly, and moved to help me hobble. "I thought you were healed?"

"Yeah, but I should've rested a bit more as my bones and muscles adapted to being whole again." I sighed heavily. "Which I didn't. There was work, and this won't kill me. There were others in the infirmary who couldn't say the same."

"It's sad how true that is." He fell quiet then, still helping me limp, but thankfully, he was right. His room really wasn't far from where we'd been.

He'd led me inside and had me sit at a small stable in the room while he hunted for the medicine. I noticed with a little smile that he'd kept the door open, like a 'proper' gentleman, before I looked around the room. The first thing I noticed was that it was warmer than Emmeryn's. There were little pictures dotting the walls and nightstand, some flowers. Books scattered across the floor. A couple of half-written letters on a desk. Half-cleaned armor in the corner, next to some weapons. A patchwork quilt on the bed. Little things, but things that showed that this was 'home' to him. Unlike Emmeryn's. No matter how much she claimed she liked simpler things, I couldn't help but think the castle wasn't 'home' to her anymore, and that it hadn't been since she became Exalt.

"Here." Frederick set down a little vial, and some water next to it. "It tastes horrible, but it's very effective," he explained. I gave him a dubious look and he smiled slightly. "Is that out of disbelief of my words, or that I'm saying them in the first place?"

"The latter. I've had cheap ale in the slums," I retorted. I shuddered as I remembered. "You want horrible taste? Go with that." I took the vial and tossed it back like a shot. I made a face at how bitter it was, and downed the water after it. "Though, I have to admit. That was damn close."

"Then I think I'll avoid your recommendation." Frederick laughed a bit, leaning against the wall next to me. "Sit and wait for a bit. Sometimes, it requires a second dose, and sometimes, it'll make you very dizzy."

"Like most pain medications. I've had a few, when employers were nice." I sighed, and leaned back in the chair. "How's the city?"

"Finally calm. Phila and I just got back. Exalt Emmeryn will likely address the people in the morning."

"And then we figure out what the hell we do from there." I looked up at him. "I mentioned this to Chrom, but there's a traitor. Maybe more than one. That man got in through the secret passage, and it would be a lot of luck if he happened to just find it."

"Yes, and it will be difficult to research who." He sighed heavily. "While only very few were ever told, we have to take into account of some of those being… less than discreet, made lax by the peace."

"Or wanting money. Or protection."

"Yes. You and Robin need to not go anywhere alone. You two are strangers, and very close to the royals."

"I suppose." I paused and then gave him a confused look. "Wait, hold on. Isn't this where you're supposed to question and be wary?"

"Oh, I am wary. I'm Frederick the Wary, after all." He smiled a little at the joke, and I snickered, unable to help it. "And you, Kestrel, keep a lot of secrets. It's hard to not be suspicious that those secrets might be involved. However, I can also admit that the involvement is unintended." He shrugged. "It would be a stupid time to turn coat, and you strike me as someone who prefers pragmatism and expediency. If you wanted Exalt Emmeryn or Prince Chrom dead, you could've done so without all this fuss. You could've even done so and come up with a lie, as you're often alone with them."

"...I'm trying to figure out if you're complimenting me or not, and coming up blank."

"Well, I'm not sure if it's a compliment or not either." His smile grew and I outright laughed. "So, I'm afraid I cannot answer that."

"Damn." I made a face before thinking of something. "Oh, so, I have a question."


"An… emotional thing." I shrugged. "You seem to be the most emotionally stable person I know."

"Naga help you."

"Pick another god. They might be more inclined to help. But for now, you." I sulked. "Do you mind?"

"I don't mind, but…" He paused, thinking. "You have no idea about emotions?"

"Well, I know anger and hatred." My voice was very dry. "But no, otherwise, I'm emotionally stupid. Underdeveloped."

"You kept quiet?" He frowned, looking incredibly confused. "You didn't ask?"

"I had no one to ask!" I glowered at him. "It's spread by now who that man was, right? The leader of the assassins here? That was my abusive father. That's who we've… I've... been running from. Look at the damage to here, and know that he sent even more sadistic people to come after us." I started shaking as I remembered the first time. The first time we were attacked after Mom had died. Before, we'd just thought Mom had been fighting 'bad people', like a hero. We didn't realize until much, much later that she'd simply been protecting us. "They'd slaughtered our friends, our neighbors, just to find us. They were killed just for not being us. They hadn't even been protecting us! They hadn't been asked They were just in the way!" And it was the same at the next place. And the next. And the next. Finally, Robin and I had withdrawn from everyone. The closest we got was acquaintance, comrade. Employer and employee. Never stayed with anyone long, never stayed anywhere long. "So, no, I didn't ask. It's just been Robin and me until we got here with all you crazy people!" My voice echoed back, and I realized I was actually shouting. "I…"

"Clearly had a nerve struck." Frederick, however, was still perfectly calm. "Very well. I shall do what I can to help you put a name to what is bothering you."

"Thank you." I squirmed a bit, embarrassed, and then looked down, speaking more to the floor. "Okay, so it deals with Chrom." I jerked my head up when I heard a coughing sound, and I realized he was coughing. "What?"

"Nothing, nothing." He waved my concern away. "I just already have an idea. But continue. I could be wrong."

"I… okay?" I gave him a confused look before shrugging. "So, Chrom. I often feel a bit… odd? Well, not often. Just sometimes. When we spar, it's all fine, and when we're in serious things, it's fine. But when it's not? And it's just the two of us? I feel weird? Like… awkward, yet not?" I struggled to try and explain it. "Like I'm out of place, yet I only feel that way because I'm so in place, and I don't know that feeling? Then, well, we got talking about marriages because… well, because. It made sense, I promise. But he started talking about it, and I felt awkward, and I burst into tears, and it's all just bizarre and I can't word it properly and-"

"You're in love." He said the words so simply that I could only stare in shock at him. "You're in love with Prince Chrom." He gave me a sympathetic look. "I've been suspecting it. A few have, actually. Virion and I had a conversation about it, alongside why he bears a dagger with the crest of an Ylissean noble house."

"I… that…" My eyes widened. I was… in love with him? I was in love with Chrom? That seemed so… so ridiculous. It was only in the stories that people fell in love quickly. I'd known Chrom for a handful of weeks, even if all the events did make it seem longer. "That…" But, at the same time, there was some part of me, a growing part, that thought he was right. If only because he had given me an answer so quickly. "I…"

"Love is a very painful, and sorrowful thing." His voice was soft, and I knew he was thinking about… what he had with Emmeryn. That distant, yet intimate, thing that could never become anything else because of their roles, and duties. "Especially when you love someone so bound by duty."

"That's…" My voice cracked, and I realized I was crying. "Oh, gods, I'm an idiot." I covered my face, doing my best to just keep quiet. "I'm a complete idiot."

"Love makes fools of everyone." Frederick came over and sat next to me, resting a reassuring hand on my back. "You simply have to… make do."

"I wish I'd never met him." Yet, at the same time, I was happy. Because of all the kindness. Because of being able to see Robin so happy. Because of the… the friends… "Things would be easier."

"Well, while I doubt you'd hurt, I'm not so certain going through life completely numb is 'easier'." He rubbed my back soothingly. "Go ahead and cry. Love hurts."

"It really freaking does." My voice cracked again, and I thought of the odd looks I'd gotten from Sumia. She'd… she'd figured it out. Long before I had. That was why she'd sometimes act strangely. I was her 'rival', sort of. "Oh, gods, Sumia… I need to apologize..."

"I think…" Frederick trailed off, and he hummed a little. "Well, perhaps…" He stood suddenly, and walked away. I brought my knees to my chest and continued to cry, not knowing how else to begin processing this.

Small, almost stumbling footsteps caught my ear, and I glanced up. Then I jerked back, because Sumia was right there, smiling sadly at me. Frederick was in the doorway, and I put the pieces together from there; he'd gone to get her.

"...I understand," she whispered. She sat next to me, and hugged me tightly. "I understand too. It really sucks, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," I mumbled. I returned her hug when I noticed she was crying too. "We're both have really bad taste in men."

"Seems so." She laughed a bit, and I did too, and we both continued hugging each other and crying. Frederick let us cry ourselves out while he made tea for us both, and brought us damp clothes to wash our faces with.

The next few days were going to be incredibly awkward. But, I had a name for why, and I… I wasn't alone in it. There was some small comfort in that.

Notes on Sumia:

Class - Pegasus Knight, Reclass - Knight, Cleric

The daughter of a Viscount who is good with animals. Also does 'flower fortunes' for reasons unknown, but they seem to reassure her.

She had previously trained as a cleric, but reading the descriptions of a war-time infirmary made her realize she did not have the right mentality for it. She then received some training as a knight, but she took lessons with Phila to ride a pegasus.

Clumsy on the ground, but incredibly skilled and graceful in the air, perhaps because she has full confidence in her pegasus, and none in herself. Always, though, she is a sweet girl who simply wishes to be useful to the Shepherds. And Chrom. She has a rather obvious crush on him.

Chapter Text

Interlude - Traitor

There was an assassination attempt, and it almost worked. Thankfully, it didn't. Bonus points, I got to kill my father. Negative points, I found out I'm in love with Chrom.

Why do things always go from bad to worse with me?

Chrom and Emmeryn spent most of the next day arguing about what to do. The knowledge that there was a traitor in their own castle made everything uncomfortable. Chrom refused to leave Emmeryn alone; Emmeryn refused to leave, period. Frederick came up with a compromise by having Emmeryn go to the eastern palace or something, very quietly. Only a handful of people know, people Emmeryn trusts above all else. That one of those people could be the very traitor who nearly got her killed weighs heavily on all of us, especially the Shepherds as we pack and prepare not only to escort Emmeryn, but to return to Ferox for the army they promised.

With so much riding on us, it wasn't surprisingly that many cracked and panicked under the pressure. Robin and I had to sort out at least six arguments, over meaningless things, and Chrom had to deal with even more. I'd ducked out while Lissa and Vaike yelled over a pie slice of all things to go check on Sumia. I'd found her in her family's townhouse in the city, escorted by chortling servants, and it quickly became apparent just why they were laughing. Sumia was acting out scenes from a story.

"Back, angry fiend!" she called, twirling her lance about with a flourish. "I shan't let you near the princess!" She jumped to the other side and scoffed. "As if a puny villager like you can stop me!"

"What about confused friends?" I asked dryly. She squeaked and whirled, hiding her lance behind her back. "What is that even from? Please tell me another of the Ribald Series."

"The ones dealing with Magvel…" Sumia flushed from embarrassment, though she smiled shyly. "I was trying to emulate Dame Emma."

"Isn't she the one who-?"

"Ah!" She flailed, shaking her head. "Don't tell me! I haven't finished yet!" She paused. "Wait, this is a new book. It came out yesterday, while you were busy in the castle. I bought you a copy, but didn't get a chance to give it to you."

"Did you forget that the Magvellian tales are, literally, well know and these Ribald tales are merely the latest adaptation?" I grinned as her expression blanked. "Okay, you've been inside too long. Time for sunshine."

"I… sure!" She smiled brightly, and carefully left her lance leaning against the wall. "Let's head to the market. I need to get a few things for the trip."

"That sounds good." I headed back down the hallway, and she easily fell in step next to me. "So, were you here with your parents?"

"No, they're on the estate. I more came here to get out of the way, since everything is so hectic." She shrugged. "There's not much I can do to help. I do help Frederick with the horses, but I did that this morning, and it'll be a bit before their evening check." She waved to the servants as we passed, and gave the guards at the front gates a bright grin. "Sorry, habit."

"I think it's a good habit. They certainly looked happy." It was hard to be sad around a smiling Sumia. "How are they doing?"

"They're worried about the threat, last I heard, but they're going to do what they can to protect our people." She easily led the way to the market, and we were greeted by a surprisingly cheerful crush of people. Emmeryn's speech earlier must've lifted their spirits, since yesterday, the dead were more lively than them. "Yay! Look at everything!"

"I'm looking." I smiled slightly, and tried to not twitch. I still remembered the eerie laughter and the red eyes. I wondered if the source was here. But, if it was, they were hiding very well. I'd seen or heard nothing. "What are you looking to buy?"

"Oh, I know where it is." She stepped close to me as we entered the market proper. "But, more importantly, I have a question for you."


"Yep!" She waved to some passing people before turning her attention back to me. "You've been avoiding Captain Chrom a lot." She peered at my face, and I tried to wince. Of course she'd noticed. Chrom hadn't, thankfully, but... "Why?"

"I…" I sighed, drooping. It was awkward. I didn't like it, but I also found myself squirming when I was near, even if he didn't see me. "I'm trying to get my head in order. Once I convince my heart that it's impossible, then-"

"Why should it be impossible?" Sumia gave me a very serious look. "You shouldn't give up before even trying. My best friend, Cordelia, did that. She said it was impossible for Captain Chrom to return her feelings, and so, she gave up without trying. I tried to convince her otherwise, but…" She sighed. "She refuses to believe me."

"...Sumia, forgive me, but why would you be encouraging me? Me giving up would make it easier for you to get with Chrom."

"Well, it's a number of reasons." She casually, shyly, hooked her arm around mine. "For one, you are a dear friend and I want you to be happy. I want Captain Chrom to be happy too. So, you know, if both are you are happy together, I'll be a bit sad, because love sucks, but I'd also be really, really happy!" She giggled. "But her eyes became serious. "And, well… I don't want to be someone's second choice, you know? I mean; I'm clumsy, I'm shy, I tend to be use-whoa!" She managed to trip over her own feet, but I shifted to keep her up. "Thanks!"

"That is life telling you that you're not 'useless', by the way." I smiled at her, and she smiled back shyly. "But I get it, I think. You don't want to deal with 'what ifs', like 'what if' Cordelia hadn't given up or 'what if' I didn't give up."

"Exactly!" She beamed. "So, I want you to promise to go for it!"

"You…" I started laughing, unable to help it. "Well, if I had any idea how to 'go for it', I would? You think I know anything about flirting? I needed help figuring out I was in love with him!"

"Mmm, point, and I'm pretty poor at it myself." She giggled. "Well, how about you promise to stop avoiding him? I think he's been busy enough to not notice, but…" She shrugged, still smiling. "If nothing else, he's still a friend, right?"

"...Right." I continued laughing, leaning into her a bit. "Well, for now, you and I are in the market, and I think I spy a book of poems over there."

"You love poetry, don't you?" She laughed. "Well, that book you lent me was super sweet! I loved most of them!"

"It's a good book." I grinned. "The best part is that they're small, so they easily fit into packs. I can bring a whole bunch on the way to Ferox."

"That's clever!" She grinned back. "Come on! Let's buy some, then!"

After Sumia and I went shopping, eventually actually getting the extra pads she needed to pack, Sumia returned to her estate to finish her packing and I returned to the castle to make sure no one had killed each other yet. Thankfully, no one had, and so, I ended up following Robin to Emmeryn's study, curled up in the corner while she and Robin set up to play chess.

"I'm surprised by the sudden invitation," Robin noted, setting up his pieces. He was 'black', while Emmeryn took 'white'. I almost laughed at how unintentionally fitting that was. "Do you worry about my tactical skill?"

"Of course not, Robin," Emmeryn replied. She already had her pieces set up, and she waited with a pleasant smile. "I simply have a brief break and wished to play a few games. You were the only one free."

"Well, I feel loved." Robin grinned and settled into his chair. "You're first."

"So I am." Emmeryn looked over the board briefly before moving a pawn. "I do have a question for you, though."

"Oh?" Robin's hands hovered over his pieces, his eyes sharp as he began devising strategies. "What is it?"

"If you had to choose…" Emmeryn's voice was very soft, but there was something heavy in it. Robin's hand left the pieces as he waited for her to continue. I glanced up from my book of poems, curious. "What would you choose between your queen and your pawn?"

"That's a strange question." Robin sat back in his chair and closed his eyes to think. "I'm assuming this is a situation where I cannot capture the one who threatens them, nor can I threaten the king with a check or checkmate?"


"Damn." He sighed, and opened his eyes. "Well, ultimately, I think I'd pick the pawn."


"Well, no matter how powerful the queen piece is, the queen is a replaceable piece." Robin looked up at the ceiling. "When a pawn reaches the end of the board, they can promote and become any other piece, including a queen."

"That's right. Only the king isn't replaceable." Emmeryn paused, gave me a brief and unreadable look, before looking right at Robin. "Who would you call your 'king', Robin?"

"Are you asking me who isn't replaceable? Because that's everyone."

"No, no. I ask, if you had to assign pieces to people you know, who would you call your 'king'?"

"That's…" Robin frowned, and I set my book down as it was quickly becoming clear that Emmeryn was having a different conversation than we'd originally thought. "I suppose Chrom. He's our leader, after all, and if he fell, I'm not sure the Shepherds would hold together. Whatever he thinks of himself, the Shepherds all joined for him."

"That's right. Chrom would be my king as well." She smiled sweetly. "What piece would you assign to me?"

"You? Probably the queen… piece…" Robin trailed off, eyes wide, and my jaw drop as we both figured out what Emmeryn was implying. "Emmeryn… you…"

"I would call myself the 'queen' as well." She still smiled so sweetly, but the words she implied were chilling. 'I can be replaced.' "Rest assured, however. I am not inclined to sacrifice any piece, much less my queen."

"...Who do you think could replace such a marvelous queen, though?"

"Oh, Robin, you flatter me!" She laughed, perfectly cheerful, while I reeled from how easily she suggested she was replaceable. "I already have an idea of who might 'replace' such a queen, though. A wondrous one, far better, though she knows not her worth. But others do, and its draws them, perhaps even the 'king' himself?" She chuckled. "Well, we'll see about that."

"...I fear you play a game far greater than mine, and with far more pragmatism." Robin looked back at the board. "Chrom would kill for you. He has already. He'll become death incarnate to keep you safe."

"But he would hate himself, forever, because if there is one thing he hates, it is becoming like our father." Emmeryn's smile finally faltered. "I am a poor sister. I leave my siblings to the wayside in the name of duty. I am rarely there for them. I'm always too busy to help them. And I am a worse sister to Chrom, because I see the traces of our father in him and become afraid. Yet, he loves me. He loves me so dearly, and that is a miracle I will forever thank the gods for, because though I never show it enough, I love him so very much." She clasped her hands in her lap. "So, above all else, I want… to protect his spirit. His heart. I'd rather him receive a lesser wound than to see him twist himself into becoming something he hates, into someone he loathes."

"You seem… very certain on that."

"He didn't even touch the Falchion for years. He only took up fighting because I refused to, and I saw his heart break as he went through the formal ceremony to receive Falchion. I do not want to see him do that again." She shook her head. "I do not want to see him break himself for my sake again."

"Well, I imagine you won't see much of anything if you die." Robin's voice was cross as he scowled. "Which-"

"Robin, shut up," I retorted. The response was sudden enough that he did listen, and I turned to Emmeryn, who watched me closely. "You're not saying anything she hasn't already suffered through."

"But, it's just…" Robin began. He visibly groped for words, frustrated that he couldn't think of a reply. Emmeryn simply watched. "Just-"

"Robin, if there was a choice between dying yourself, or something killing me, what would you pick?"

"Well, I'd pick you, of course…" Robin paused, and I could see the pieces click together. "Oh."

"Precisely. I'd make the same sort of decision if our roles were reversed. That's what Emmeryn is talking about. I imagine she went with the chess metaphors in the hope that it would get through your thick skull faster."

"I'm sorry I'm an amnesiac and am still relearning metaphors." Robin scowled and I laughed, picking up my book again. "Fine, fine. Emmeryn, just promise you really won't do so needlessly. If it's a stupid sacrifice, I swear I'll bring you back to spite you."

"Of course," Emmeryn replied. Her smiled was gentle and warm. "Thank you."

"Chrom is going to kill me," Robin groaned. He leaned back in his chair. "Super kill me."

"No, he won't. He adores you. Besides, it's not as if I would leave such a choice in your hands." Her smile sweetened, even as Robin gave her an incredulous look. "So, the game?"

"Ah, right, yes?" Robin moved his piece at last, and Emmeryn moved hers, and the two settled into playing chess against each other. I watched them for a bit, noting with a smile that both of them played things cautiously, not willing to sacrifice a single piece.

Emmeryn won only once out of the seven matches they played, the one where she'd sacrificed her queen. I could only hope we wouldn't have to make the same decision.

"Thanks for insisting on sparring, Kestrel." Chrom sprawled out on the grass briefly, sighing happily. "It was just what I needed," he said, smiling up at me. "Thanks."

"I thought so," I replied, trying to hide both my silly smile and my blush. At Sumia's encouragement, I'd dragged Chrom out for our nightly spars. With Frederick's permission, we'd even left the palace, to a grassy hill with a giant tree, its leaves fading orange and brown as we quickly approached winter. Gangrel either had high hopes for his campaign, or no sense of how poor winter fighting could be due to living in Plegia. We'd likely trade initial blows, and then have to hole up for the winter. "Besides, it's not like the sparring didn't do me some good as well." A little bit of sparring, and I felt… well, I still felt shy and awkward, like I was too big for my limbs or something, but it was less. I could stay around without feeling the need to flee. "You've been running around all day."

"I have to oversee everything myself." He groaned as he pushed himself up. "We don't know who betrayed us. I have to double check everything for sabotage."

"Have you noticed anything?"

"Yeah, there's been about three, but all so damn subtle that they could've easily been honest mistakes." He rested a fist on his knee, glaring at the horizon. "It's been a long time since we've had to make preparations like this, and this is sudden. People make mistakes when panicked."

"Is there one person in charge of all three?"

"No, and all three involved things that everyone had access to." He sighed, trying to relax. But his shoulders remained stiff. "I need to thank Panne again. She's the one who caught there was a problem with one of the horses."

"How is she getting along with everyone? And… Gaius, was it? I've not seen much of either."

"Gaius has been helping me try to track down the traitor, and to try and muddle our own tracks. Panne keeps her distance, but there's been no arguments, yet." Chrom tensed again. "Of course, all the work will be meaningless if I trust the wrong person."

"Are you afraid?"

"A little." He smiled ruefully. "Not Emm, though. She gives her trust freely still, even though her life was at risk."

"Well, then of course you worry. The more people you trust with your life, the more easily that life can be stolen." I hesitated and reached out to rest my hand on his fist, still on his knee. "I would, in your place."

"I imagine you did, when you first joined." His smile grew as I simply shrugged. "But it's still amazing that she can hold onto her beliefs even now. I have to protect her, though. Someone needs to."

That reminded me of the earlier conversation with Emmeryn, and I felt the need to bring it up. "Emmeryn thinks she's a poor sister to you. And Lissa, but mostly to you." I leaned forward a little to better look him in the eye. "But you clearly love her. It can't be simply blood ties to do that, and it's not simple admiration."

"She's always too hard on herself." He laughed a little, but it faded pretty quickly. "Well, admittedly, when I was very young, I thought she hated me. She'd just taken over the throne, so things were all chaotic. My sister was no longer 'just' my sister, my father was gone, my mother died soon after, I had a little sister I suddenly had to take care of…" He smiled, though. "One time, though, I was taking a bath-"

"Oh, is that an unusual thing?"

"Hey!" He scowled and I laughed, unable to help it. "I'm being serious."

"Sorry, you just left too wide an opening." I poked his side for emphasis, and he rolled his eyes. "So, bathtime?"

"Yes, I was taking a bath. The thing was, I was incredibly tired from taking care of Lissa. At the time, Frederick wasn't our guard, so it was only the wetnurse, one of many who just left and was replaced since no one stuck around, and me. So, I fell asleep or, more accurately, passed out, and almost drowned." He smiled again. "Emm bolted out of an important council meeting as soon as she heard, and she pushed past every single servant to make sure she could reach me. She actually plucked me out of the suds like a kitten, and she was crying so much as I came too. I almost thought she'd fallen into the water before I'd realized her face was covered in tears." He looked up at the sky, to the stars glittering overhead. "I realized then that my sister hadn't gone away. She just had a little more to do. And I wanted to do what I could to help her. It wasn't fair that she had so much on her shoulders. I wanted to take that burden, as much as I could."

Yet that was what Emmeryn was afraid of, that he'd take so much that he'd break, like her. "Well, remember that you have bunches of helpers too, when they're not busy with the sheep!" I grinned as he laughed. "So, don't you…" My grin faltered as the moonlight washed over his face, revealing something I hadn't noticed before. "Chrom, when did you last sleep?" He looked far more exhausted than normal for our sparring. Paler.

"Last night." He tensed again, and sounded defensive. "I promise."

"For how long?" I waited, but there was no reply. "An hour?"

"...And a half…" He looked away, sounding small. "Well, maybe an hour and fifteen…"

"You look like it." I hesitated, feeling awkward once more, but I reached up to grab his shoulder and then pulled him down so that his head rested in my lap. "Go ahead and sleep a bit."

"Here?" He turned so that he was lying on his back and looking up at me. "But… I mean…"

"I know it's not the most comfortable pillow, but while we're out here, no one will bother us unless it's a real emergency. You can get a bit more sleep."

"It's plenty comfortable." He looked worried, even as he also looked more and more tired. Laying down caused his exhaustion to catch up. "But, I mean…"

"It's a lovely night, and I brought a few books of poems with me." I leaned back to snag one from my pack, which I'd brought at Frederick's insistence. "See? I'll be fine. I'll just read."


"Chrom, you need your sleep." I shyly rested a hand on his hair. "I imagine it also wasn't so restful sleeping while there's a traitor."

"...No, it wasn't." He sighed heavily, and the tension left his shoulders. "I spent most of it awake, trying to figure out who it might be, wondering if they'd try to kill one of us directly…"

"Lissa is with Robin and Maribelle. Emmeryn is with Frederick and Phila. They're safe, and I promise to keep an eye on the area while I read." I smiled down at him. "So, Chrom, go ahead and sleep. You need your rest too."

"...All right…" He closed his eyes, and smiled. "Can you read me some of the poems?"

"I can, sure." I laughed a little. "To bore you to sleep?"

"I like poems. I've written a few." His smile widened. "Your voice is really comforting, though, and I'd like… to hear your favorites…"

"..." My face burned with a blush, and I was glad he already had his eyes closed. I had no way to explain away this. "All right. I'll read you my favorites."

And so I did, cycling through the three books I had in my pack. I even talked about why they were my favorites. He listened closely, asking a few questions even, until he nodded off. When I was certain he was asleep, I stopped talking to simply keep reading, strangely content with all of this. I was actually disappointed when Frederick found us, and woke Chrom up so that the two of us could go to sleep in our rooms. It had been so relaxing, and the next days were going to be hell.

I prayed this wouldn't be the last relaxing day we had, for everyone's sake. Maybe the gods would listen if I prayed on another's behalf.

Notes on Kellam:

Class - Knight; Reclass - Thief, Priest

Originally from a poor family, and now a talented member of the Shepherds. When, you know, someone actually notices him. Apparently only gets along with one of his brothers, though, for reasons unknown.

The definition of a frontline armored knight, capable of withstanding incredible amounts of abuse. This allows him to shield wounded allies until a healer can reach, an invaluable tactic.

The tallest person in the army, and one of the broadest. Combined with the heavy armor, and there is serious cause to wonder if he really is a ghost.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7) Incursion

Preparations completed, we make our way towards the Eastern Palace, hidden deep within the mountains. Legends say it used to be the estate of a grand house, during the time of the Hero King, Menidy or… something. Now, though, it was a quiet retreat for the Ylissean royal family, and where Emmeryn would rest while we headed to Ferox.

With the traitor still among us, though, I expected countless amounts of trouble. All of us did.

The Eastern Palace apparently was situated in the mountains. Whoever built the place likely had an eye for strategy, and no patience for people who weren't athletic, since there was only one path to the place by foot. They probably had a lot of archers, since the only way the place could be put under siege is by air. It was easy to see why it remained as a safe haven for the Ylissean royal family, because there was next to no chance of someone disturbing them unless it was an emergency.

The problem was, of course, that one path meant it was easy to set ambushes, and Plegia had access to fliers just as easily as Ylisse did. Though the battles with Grima were said to have rent the very world and permanently warped the lands and seas, Plegia still did hold the lands of ancient Macedon, and thus, the wyvern habitats.

"You're so lost in your thoughts, sister." Robin's chiding voice jolted me out of my thoughts, and he smiled when I looked at him in confusion. "What is it you're thinking about?" he asked me, his eyes genuinely curious. "Perhaps I can help pull a thread?"

"I'm simply thinking history, Robin," I answered, shrugging. He and I walked at an easy pace, not far from Chrom and Lissa. The rest of the walkers trailed behind, while most of the riders were ahead. Only Frederick stayed back, guarding Emmeryn and some old guy in green robes, while Phila did some scouting. "Geography and that sort of thing."

"I see." He paused, thinking a little. "So, Sumia mentioned something recently…"

"Not another word." I sighed, whimpering a little. Sumia had assumed I'd already told Robin about my crush on Chrom, and accidentally blabbed it to him. She'd been horrified, and I'd spent most of last night reassuring her that it was fine, that I had been planning on telling him (I hadn't, but that wasn't something to tell her), and that it was just a little earlier than I planned. "Sumia felt horrible."

"I know that. I… wanted to know if you wanted to talk about it." He smiled slightly. "I'm afraid I don't know… much of anything…"

"You knew as little as I do, so even if you didn't lose your memories, you wouldn't be much help."

"Regardless, I am here if you want someone to talk to, Kestrel." His smile widened. "Besides, I do like the idea. My best friend and my twin sister… Sumia's right. I should encourage this."

"I will hurt you. I swear I will."

"No, you won't. You love me."

"I hurt Chrom on a regular basis thanks to spars, so I don't think that's a proper defense!" I growled as Robin just laughed. "Watch it, Robin! I'll tell the army stories from our childhood!"

"That's not fair! I don't remember them!"


"You two have so much energy!" Lissa complained. She then whimpered. "Ugh… my poor feet…" She lifted a foot and grimaced as she peeled off her shoe to check the bottom of her feet. "Ugh, I've blisters the size of eggs…"

"Oh, it's not so bad, Lissa," Chrom laughed, ruffling her hair through her silly button hat. "Just a nice, brisk stroll."

"For you, maybe! I'm…" Lissa paused and growled. "Wait, you're trying to make me say I'm delicate!"

"I wasn't trying to do anything." Chrom laughed again, easily dodging Lissa's half-hearted attempts to hit his arm. "How are you holding up, Robin?"

"Bantering with my twin is the only reason I haven't collapsed," Robin instantly replied. Chrom simply laughed harder. "My legs feel like they're made of pudding." He gave Chrom a half-admiring, half-exasperated look. "Your endurance astounds me."

"Should I carry you?" Chrom teased, grin widening. "You're not that heavy, even with all the books."

"What, no! Carry Kestrel instead!"

"I'm not the one dragging his feet," I retorted instantly. I felt my face heat up anyway. I'd get him back for this. "I'm just fine, unlike you. You've been sitting at a desk too much."

"But wouldn't it be all cute and proper?" Robin asked, voice all innocent. His eyes danced too much. "I mean; it'll be like those stories you read."

"It would be nothing like those! No, I'm fine without being carried!"

"Then you can carry me, Chrom!" Lissa said, throwing herself at Chrom. He actually did catch her easily, but set her back down. "Oh, come on!"

"Lissa, it's hard to carry you with the metal hoop, remember?" Chrom pointed out. He laughed as she huffed. "Next time, figure out how to take it off, and then I'll carry you."


"Promise." He grinned. "But I do think I'll carry Kestrel."

"Wait, what?!" I yelped. I yelped again as Chrom easily picked me up in a classic princess carry. "Gods damn it, put me down!"

"You're really light," he noted, walking forward without even pretending to listen. I could hear Robin and Lissa laughing behind us. "You're like a little bird."

"If that's a play on my name, I'm going to whack you." I groaned, feeling absolute mortified. And worried that Sumia might see… "At least carry me on your back, damn it. This is more of a romance novel thing."

"Like those stories you read, right?"

"Chrom, you know I read poems and smut, right?" I smirked as his face went a bright-bright red. "So, Chrom, will you put me down now?"

"Fine, fine." He sighed and set me down, still red all the way to the tips of his ears. "Wait, you read other things."

"But that's what I chat with Sumia about the most." I grinned as he went even redder, and glanced back, noticing we were a good bit ahead of everyone. "Everyone's surprisingly cheerful, considering everything." My eyes fell again on the old man in green robes, who seemed a little… twitchy. "Chrom, who is that again? I haven't seen him."

"You haven't been around Emm's advisors." He smiled. "That's Hierarch Nero. He's not all that high ranked, despite the title, but he's guided Emm through her early years of being the Exalt, so she asked him to come with us to the palace, so that she could continue to work."

"I see." I narrowed my eyes, just… unnerved by him. He kept fussing, and his smile was too tight. "All right then."

"What is it?"

"I've… just a very bad feeling, and he's the only one in this main little group that I don't know." I shrugged, smiling ruefully as I faced him again. "Maybe I'm paranoid." A strange sound, however, made me look up, and I frowned at two strange shadows, too far to make out anything, especially given the sun. "The hell is-?" Something wet hit my face, despite there not being a cloud in the sky. I slowly reached up to touch it, pulling my hand back to see a small crimson blotch on my fingertip. A few more droplets hit my face, and I wondered what was going on.

A bloody feather floated into view, and that was all the warning I had before a pegasus, wings brutally ripped to shreds, and its rider, hit the ground in front of Chrom and me with a giant splat. Both of us stared in horror, not able to quite comprehend what just happened, even though we were literally splattered by the remains.

But a wyvern's victorious shriek above startled us out of the shock pretty damn quickly. It was hard for it not to.

"Damn, how did they know…?" Chrom growled. He drew Falchion, and I drew my own sword. "Wait, those ahead, are they…?" His eyes widened. "Down!" Chrom actually tackled me, both of us barely avoiding the wyvern that had been aiming to attack. It, and its rider, went down to a thunder spell, likely cast by Robin. "Oh, gods…" He shifted off me so that I could sit up, and I paled when I saw what he saw.

Wyvern riders were coming from all sides. We were completely surrounded. And the pegasus knights literally falling from the sky hinted as to why we had no warning.

They attacked without mercy, laughing as they killed. Though more than a few screeched like little kids when Panne transformed and kicked some heads clear off. We managed to coordinate, using that bit of shock, just enough for the cavalry sent ahead to come charging back to regroup.

In the chaos, I tried to focus on reaching Emmeryn, worried that someone would use the confusion to send an assassin directly for her. However, a little bit of green caught my attention, and I paused, noticing that Nero was actually leaving Frederick's protection. I thought it odd, but at first, thought he was running for some cover, panicking at the sudden assault. Then I realized he was running for the Plegians, and all the pieces clicked together instantly. Emmeryn had trusted him, and he'd exploited that trust to sell her out. So, instead, I changed my path and followed him. I had to dodge quite a few attackers in order to do so, and I had a feeling I'd get a lecture for 'running ahead'. But I didn't want to lose sight on him. I didn't want him to get… whatever he was promised for being a traitor.

Of course, as I walked up, I simply saw him gasping as a wyvern rider laughed and flew away, saying something about barns and piggies. It seemed like Plegia continued to have a low regard for traitors, even as they enticed Ylisseans to turn their coats. Then again, that made since. It was a tactic Ylisse had used, to infiltrate the castle and assassinate the entire royal family, right down to the last child.

"...So, you're the one," I whispered, noticing that there was no one near, neither friend nor ally. He squeaked and whirled, eyes wide. "They trusted you. They trusted you, so completely, and you turned it against them. You're trying to kill them for it."

"D-don't put words in my mouth, child," he tried to snap. But he kept on fidgeting, too nervous to do anything but fake a bravado even a child could see through. "I… just a mistake. Just a mistake. Just have to talk to the Exalt and-"

"And what? Be forgiven?" I shrugged. "Well, you're right. Emmeryn would probably forgive you. Chrom might, since he tries to walk her path." I smiled slowly, and he began shaking. "But neither of them are here, are they? They're busy, so it's just you and me. And I am not so forgiving towards people like you."

"Please…" He whimpered. He actually whimpered. "Please, spare my-"

"No." I walked towards him, taking my time, watching him flinch with each motion. He tried to back away, but he went right to the edge of the cliffs. "No, I won't. I don't suffer those who hurt my friends, or my family. Emmeryn and Chrom have given me the first home I've had in years, and yet here you are, destroying it."

"Ylisse would fall if-!"

"Ylisse is its people, not the lands. Ylisse is the ideals they live to, not the titles they hold." I stopped right in front of him. "Ylisse falls because of people like you, who cling to pretty ideals during peace, but throws it to the side when your life is threatened. Worse, you didn't even just sell out your own life. You sold out everyone else, too." I gestured to the splattered corpses nearby. "They're dead because of you, you know. They might've died at a different time, who is to say, but they're dead now because of you. Those deaths are on your soul, each one like a red mark that can't ever be redeemed."

"You…" He tried to snarl, but he shook too much. "You're nothing, girl! What do you know about ruling?"

"Who knows? Certainly not you." I snagged him by the collar, lifting him up slightly. It was easy. He was a weakling. "I heard the gods don't take kindly to traitors. I suppose you can find out first hand, though."

I threw him off the cliff, listening to his scream echo as he fell. I peered over the edge to watch, and saw him hit a particularly jagged stone edge hard, enough for blood to splatter, and figured that would be enough to make sure he was dead. If not, the rest of the fall, and the river below, would handle matters.

For now, I had to return. I had my own duties to do, and it would be in poor taste to kill someone for hurting my friends, and not going to defend them myself.

They set this up well. Wyverns all around, and we had barely enough room to dodge. Cavalry was thrown towards the back, because the horses kept spooking. Stahl's almost threw him off, and only Panne's quiet intervention saved him.

For our part, though, it was desperately trying to not die. Robin defaulted to his usual tactics, meaning that Chrom and I were fighting back to back as usual. This time, though, we struggled to not trip and fall to our deaths, much harder because the path was sticky and slick from all the blood, and corpses clogged it all up.

"Been a bit since I had to deal with so many smells while fighting," I muttered, wincing. Poor Panne actually had to bow out of the fight to recover, since it had become overwhelming. "Damn, they brought a lot."

"How many people are even in Plegia's army?" Chrom groaned. He leaned back slightly, resting on me, before straightening again. "Oh, right, I meant to ask."


"You happen to know what happened to Hierarch Nero? Last anyone saw, you were chasing him."

"...He's dead."

"I see…" He glanced at me, and I'm sure he noticed how I wouldn't look at him. "Damn it. Trusted the wrong person, huh?"

"Well, he can't tell them anymore." I leaned into him, hoping to convey some sort of reassurance. "How many dead do we have?"

"Too many to count, but it seems my Shepherds are pulling through just fine, which is good since I think we're the only ones capable of fighting here." Phila had lured most of the wyvern riders into the sky. The wyvern corpses falling down hinted she and her group were doing very nicely. "Damn, this is…"

"I know." I glanced around, and noticed an enemy archer trying to sight something. Curious, I followed their line of sight as best as I could, and noticed something towards our southwest. "So, pegasus knight. Long red hair. Kind of looks familiar?" It was hard to make out features, but I thought I still recognized the messy hair, at least.

"Cordelia, likely." He paused and then groaned. "She was on the border."

"Well, I don't think you have much of a border anymore. Officially, that is. Your border defense kind of sucks."

"We never had enough to guard it." Chrom kicked a lance up into his hand and threw it at the archer, scoring a messy hit to the shoulder. "Damn, I need to practice that."

"Still cool, and still kept him from firing at Cordelia." I frowned, though, as I realized there had been another arrow behind him, and he was sighting someone else. "Damn, who does he have-?"

Time slowed as the arrow flew, and at first, I wasn't quite sure why. Then I heard a too-loud-thud and looked up to see just who, exactly, that archer had targeted: Sumia. The thud had been the arrow landing in her stomach, where she wore no armor at all.

Chrom lunged forward, cutting down the archer before he landed a second arrow, but I thought the damage was already done, since the shock and pain from the arrow, compared with how she'd been mid-turn when hit, meant she was falling.

I ran forward, uncaring of anything and everything as I watched her fall. I tripped over corpses, and actually had to climb of a few dead wyverns, because there was no way around. All of that just slowed me down, and I was certain, certain, that I wouldn't make it, that no one would make it, that Sumia would hit the ground hard, and die from the impact.

But there was a bit of movement somewhere in front of me though, some sunlight glinting off armor, and Frederick appeared out of nowhere and managed to catch her and roll, bleeding off some momentum to lessen the damage to them both. However, he also lost his footing, so he was only able to twist to try and shield Sumia as a wyvern rider flew in close, axe already high above his head, face twisted in a victorious smirk.

But I was close enough then. I slid the last few steps and brought my sword up. The axe hit it with a loud clang that echoed through my skull. The wielder's eyes widened, slightly, like he couldn't believe someone had stopped him, and he leaned a little off his wyvern to bear down on me. "They'll be erecting statues of me before long," he laughed, as if this was one big game. "You're only delaying the inevitable."

"...Quod ita sit?" I replied softly. I smirked as his eyes widened. He knew enough to recognize Old Plegian, and he knew enough to know just what sort of person would actually know it well enough to speak it conversationally. "Bene, ut te digna putant paulo specialis mortem, tum quod sic?" I took advantage of his shock to knock him back. His wyvern shuffled restlessly, not quite sure what to do with its rider startled. "Die-"

"With magnificence!" Two arrows streaked over my head and thudded into the wyvern rider's chest. "Adieu!" One more hit the rider straight in the skull, right between the eyes, and he tumbled off, deader than dead.

His wyvern screeched and lunged at me, but I dodged and slit its belly, before twisting and slamming my blade through its skull. Only then did I look up and smile at Virion. "I think I owe you," I told him. I looked around and saw Frederick and Sumia weren't in sight. "How are they?"

"Just fine, though Frederick retreated as soon as possible to get them both medical attention," Virion reassured. "He broke an arm with that maneuver, and poor Sumia has some broken ribs. But they're both alive, and will be fine." He smiled at me, and came around to nudge both the wyvern and the rider, checking to make sure they were dead. "I'm quite curious, dear Kestrel, how you managed to get him to drop his guard?"

"I…" I hesitated, the words clogging my throat. But, maybe because I'd told Emmeryn most of it, some of the words managed to leak through anyway. "My parents… were high ranking in Plegia. So, I learned… Old Plegian. But it's something only the higher ranked would know… so…"

"Ah, so he was startled to find a Plegian noble here, with Ylisse." Virion nodded, clearly just accepting the information, and recognizing that I didn't want to say more. "I imagine that was quite the shock. He seemed young as well."

"Arrogant as all hell. Probably a fresh recruit." I wondered if he'd had family. They'd never see him again. All because of this war, that family lost him. "War sucks."

"That it does." Virion's eyes clouded over with thought, and I wondered if he was imagining how his home must look now. "I should…"

"Go on." I smiled at him, though I knew it was tired. "No need to think of an excuse."

"...Thank you." He actually snagged my hand and kissed it before walking off. I laughed it off, hoping the blood didn't make him ill, and wandered in a different direction. It seemed like most of the Plegians were dead, finally, and things were calming. So, I picked my way to where Chrom was talking to Phila, planning on just listening in, and poke holes in their guilt.

"I made it!" But Cordelia stumbled over, and I yelped and rushed over to support her as I noticed just how pale she was, and how her armor was actually cracked and dented. She had patches of dried blood on her neck, blood splatter that had run from sweat, and there was actually bloody feathers clinging stubbornly to her hair. "I'm fine," she whispered. I gave her a skeptical look. "Really, I'm-"

"Gods, and I thought Robin was a bad liar," I whispered. I shook my head and took more of her weight. "Any more pushing, and you're going to drop dead from exhaustion. Just give your report, and don't worry about how you look. You look a mess anyway, and no amount of proper posture is fixing that."

"How wonderful to hear." Cordelia sighed, and leaned into me, looking up at Chrom. "You have to run. More Plegians come, not half a day behind me."

"Is that so?" Chrom asked calmly. He looked resigned. "So, the border?"

"Breached. Gangrel himself attacked us," Cordelia answered. She began trembling. "The end was upon us when my fellows begged me to escape alone and warn Exalt Emmeryn." Her voice cracked, and she shook more. "Oh, gods, I still hear their screams… I should've stayed. I should've-"

"Stop the line there, Cordelia," I murmured. I shifted so that I was holding her a little more securely, and let her hide her face in my shoulder. "Easy…"

"She's right, Cordelia," Phila suddenly added. She walked over and rested a gentle hand on Cordelia's shoulder. "You did your duty, and your knight-sisters rightly trusted their legacy to you. Your pegasus was the fastest of the group, after all, and you have many years ahead of you." Cordelia didn't answer. She simply sobbed. "You did well. Let their faith give you strength, in time." Phila stepped back and turned, and all of us froze when we realized Emmeryn was right there. "Your Grace…"

"I must return to the capital," Emmeryn whispered, clinging to some sort of cloth covered object. She narrowed her eyes, anger bleeding into her words. "I never should've left. When word comes, the people will be frightened. There could be riots. I must leave and calm them."

"Your Grace, please do not be absurd!" Phila protested. I looked around, trying to see who was near. Robin and Lissa raced over. Frederick lingered back, his arm in a sling, likely to keep him from moving it. He caught my eye and pointed towards Stahl, who limped back towards the main part of the supplies. I nodded and passed Cordelia to Stahl, so that she could get medical attention too. And see her best friend. "Your life is-!"

"I am not requesting that, Phila. I am commanding it." She shook her head. "Please."

"...Allow me and mine to escort you."

"Always." She smiled briefly, and turned to Chrom, who had a stony expression. "Chrom, keep this safe." She passed him a cloth covered object. "This is the Fire Emblem. Take it to Ferox and-"

"And leave you?" Chrom finished bitterly. He shook his head, and pointedly refused to take it. "No, Emm. I'm not doing that."


"No, you're talking like you're giving up, and I will not just-"

"I'm not giving up." She handed the Fire Emblem to Robin, of all people, and shook her head. Robin gave me a shocked look, but I threw up my hands, not even trying to understand any of this. "I'm giving what I can ."

"This is madness!" Chrom shook his head violently, as if he could just erase what was going on. "Emm, you can't-!"

"Sis, I'll come with you!" Lissa broke forward and threw herself into Emmeryn for a hug. Robin took that opportunity to walk away, likely to coordinate people. "I'll come with you," she repeated. "That way-"

"No, Lissa," Emmeryn murmured. She returned the hug briefly before stepping out of it. Big, fat tears already streamed down Lissa's face. "You'll stay with Chrom. I command it."

"But…!" Lissa's voice cracked, and she actually turned to me to hide her sobs. "It's not fair! It's not fair! I know our people need you, but we do too!"

"Now, now." Emmeryn crouched by Lissa, while I awkwardly patted Lissa's back and wondered how I got dragged into this. "Dry your tears, love. This is not goodbye."

"You can't just leave like this!" Chrom snapped. His eyes blazed with pain, and it was all too easy to see his heart was already shattering. Emmeryn winced at the sight. "And stop acting like Lissa and I are five again! We both know what it means to return, especially right now!"

"Chrom…" Emmeryn began. But she paused, clearly unable to think of what to say. "I…"

"Walking to your own death will not bring peace to anyone!" Chrom brought his hand up, like he was going to grab her, but he let it fall. "Ylisse needs you still! We need you still! By the gods, I've watched you give up everything for the title, but can't you be selfish just this once!?"

"Chrom." Emmeryn got a strangely peaceful look on her face. "You still cannot quite see who the peace I seek is for, it seems."

"Which is why you need to stay and show me, for fu-!"

"Chrom." She reached out and hugged him tightly, stopping his words cold. "Chrom, quiet. I want you to promise me something."

"...What is it?" He slowly relaxed into the hug, though he didn't return it yet. "What do you need me to do?"

"Be happy." Her voice was soft. "I want you to promise to be happy, and to not throw away love, friendship, or anything, just because you feel guilty over my choices." She pulled away and cupped his face, smiling at his shocked and confused look. "You know what I'm talking about, in your heart of hearts. If you need help, talk to Frederick. But I know what you try to deny, and I know why. And I want you to stop that, because I want you to have all the happiness life can give you. I don't want you to deny even a second of it, because of me."

"I don't…" He still looked confused, but then there was a bit of realization in his eyes. He knew. He knew; he just didn't want to know. "Emm, that's not… I mean…"

"No. Hush. You promise me." She smiled as he slowly nodded. "Good. Be happy. Don't give up."

"Emm, stop talking like…" Chrom bowed his head. "Damn it, Emm."

"I love you. You and Lissa are my everything."

"I love you too, sister, but this is a terrible plan."

"But it will buy you the time to come to Ylisse's rescue. You and I will keep our people safe. I believe that with all my heart." Her smile warmed. "Safe journey, Chrom."

"Emm…" He reached up and hugged her tightly. "You'd better be there at Ylisstol."

"I will." She hugged him back. "I know you'll save it."

"And we need to go on a picnic or something, you, me, and Lissa. You canceled our last one, so you owe us."

"I do. It'll be fun. I'll make a little menu for it." She giggled, and stepped away. Chrom's hand lingered on her sleeve, like a child clinging to… no, like a little brother clinging to his big sister, something he likely did before she inherited her title.

But then he let go, just as he had to when she became the Exalt, and she walked away to do her duty, leaving him to bear the burdens of everything else.

Emmeryn crouched down next to Lissa and tugged her off of me. "Safe journey, Lissa," Emmeryn whispered, hugging Lissa. Lissa continued to sob. "I love you."

"L-love you too," Lissa managed through her tears. "I… Emm, be careful!"

"I'll do what I can." Emmeryn straightened then, letting Lissa run to Chrom for reassuring hugs. Then, to my surprise, she actually hugged me. "Do not be afraid."

"Of what?" I whispered, feeling a little odd about everything. Why would she hug me next? "I can think of a lot of reasons to be afraid of right now, without trying."

"Do not be afraid that you will lose this." She tightened her hug as I stiffened. "You are safe here. You have a home here. That will never change."

"...I…" I hesitantly returned the hug. "I can try; I suppose." I had told Virion a little. He hadn't reacted badly. So maybe...

"You can tell Chrom as well. I promise; he will simply accept it, as he does everything else." She pulled away and smiled at me. "Thank you for joining us, Kestrel. I'm so glad you did."

"...You're not going to make it, are you?"

"Who can say?" Still, her smile took on a bitter tinge. "There used to be a curse associated with the Fire Emblem, that triggers when given to a champion. The end of war, and the end of love, among other things. But I suppose I ended it on my own, long ago. Perhaps I might still play a part in ending the war as well."

"...Don't sacrifice the queen unless there's no choice. You promised that."

"And I will remember that." She pulled away, gave me a very curious smile that looked proud and relieved, and turned away, walking gracefully towards the supplies, with Phila only a step ahead, shouting orders.

Chrom shouted his own, to his Shepherds, and things were a chaotic mess of screams, protests, and trying to divide up supplies. In the mess, I noticed Frederick lingering back, out of the way, glancing towards where Emmeryn was. He looked like he wanted to say something, do something, but held still, held back, because… it wasn't proper. It wasn't his duty. His duty was with the Shepherds, and could afford little else right now.

...I hated it. I hated seeing him like this, especially since he had helped me. So, I walked over to him and gave him a good shove, towards Emmeryn. "Go," I whispered. He gave me an incredulous, startled look. "Go, speak with her one more time. You'll regret it if you don't." I pointedly turned away, and started pushing everyone forward, away from them. Chrom gave me a confused look, but he looked back and then nodded, giving me a wan smile as he moved forward with the others, urging everyone to pick up the pace. To leave Emmeryn and her escorts behind.

When I glanced back, I saw Emmeryn and Frederick hugging, and thought I saw them share a kiss, likely their first, and their last. I turned away to give them their peace, and walked forward with the rest of the Shepherds. Frederick would catch up. He'd do his duty, just as Emmeryn would do hers.

And as… we had to do ours, I supposed.

Notes on Lon'qu:

Class - Mymidon; Reclass - Thief, Wyvern Rider.

Though he hails from Regna Ferox, his name and his features hints he was born on Chon'sin, across the sea in Valm. He is Basilio's right hand, and, by all accounts, is like a son to Basilio.

Fast and skilled, with an uncanny eye for finding weak points. His reliance on speed, however, means that he forgoes armor, meaning if he can't dodge, he gets hurt badly.

Supposedly has 'gynophobia', but his responses seem more in line with PTSD. Perhaps he lost a female friend or family member violently as a child, and now, he is afraid to get close to another.

Chapter Text

Interlude - Desperation

We make our way to Ferox, at a hard march that actually made some people twist their ankles. Still, we kept going, and we sent Cordelia and Sumia ahead to inform Flavia about what happened. When we made it to the border, Raimi met us and escorted us all the way to Eclil, where Flavia greets us with warm food, warmer baths, and generally anything and everything we needed.

Now, we wait for Ferox to call their army, and for the dreaded news of Ylisstol's fall.

Everything moved both slowly and quickly. None of us knew what to do, yet we all were filled with nervous energy. And while we were waiting for more news from Flavia, Lissa had a panic attack.

"B-but she'll be safe inside the castle, right?" she sobbed. She shook badly, and it took all of Maribelle's strength to keep her from collapsing. "Phila and the others will protect her, and Flavia is getting the army, and we'll be back in time, right?"

"Try to take a breath, Lissa," I urged, crouching down to look her in the face. This meeting with Flavia had originally been just for Chrom and Lissa, and Sumia had come by to bring him food, but she'd seen Lissa falling apart and sent for Maribelle and me. Maribelle focused on supporting Lissa, while I tried to get through to her. "Deep breath, Lissa."

"B-b-but…!" Her voice cracked. "Chrom, tell me it'll be okay!" She twisted to look at her brother, who stared into the distance, not even acknowledging Sumia as she tried to get him to eat. "Say 'of course we will' or something!" But there was no response. "Chrom!"

"Huh?" Chrom jerked at the yell, and turned to Lissa. "I'm… sorry, did you say something?" he asked. He really hadn't been paying attention. "Do you need another handkerchief?"

"No! Gods, you idiot!" Her breath hitched and she turned into Maribelle. "Get out of your own head!" That didn't seem fair for her to say, considering she was the one sobbing. But, then again, fear made illogical idiots out of everyone.

"I… sorry…" Chrom flinched, and he looked away. It wasn't long before his eyes unfocused again. Likely, he was thinking of how poor of a brother he was, because that seemed like him.

"Captain, you should eat," Sumia urged, trying to catch his attention. I returned to trying to calm Lissa with Maribelle. None of us had much luck. "Captain…" Lissa was inconsolable, and Chrom was too deep in self-pity and hatred. "Oh, snap out of it, Captain!" And then Sumia proceeded to hit Chrom in the face with a gauntleted fist. It wasn't a punch. It was more of a fisted-slap or something. It certainly made a loud noise, one that made all of us pause and simply stare. "Um… did I do it wrong?" Lissa stopped crying; Chrom stared, his jaw reddening up. "Um… did I do it wrong? Phila always says a good slap will shake someone out of their doldrums."

"Those slaps are typically with an open hand, and not while wearing a gauntlet," I pointed out. "You hit Chrom in the face with something that's intended as a weapon."

"Oh." Her face went red. "I'm so sorry!"

"I think my jaw is broken," Chrom murmured, pressing a hand against his jaw. "Or that I lost some teeth."

"L-let me see!" Lissa yelped. She pulled away from Maribelle and raced over to Chrom, making little whimpering noises as she examined the area. Maribelle and I hung back awkwardly, while Sumia hesitantly moved behind me, her face mottled red from mortification. "Wow, Sumia, you did some damage!"

"I'm sorry!" Sumia squeaked, hiding behind me further. Maribelle was giving her a 'what were you thinking?' look. "I just… I forgot I was wearing my gauntlets still!"

"Why do you have them on?"

"I was sparring with Cordelia before I came here. Is it bad?"

"Bruised, but nothing broken or loose." Lissa giggled, patting Chrom's cheek. He looked exasperated, but he reached up to wipe away the tears still clinging to her face. "I'll tend to it with my staff later, Chrom."

"Well, you're livelier than I expected." Flavia finally walked in then, laughing a little. "Well, Chrom, it seems you're smart enough to surround yourself with strong women."

"Huh?" Chrom replied, looking confused. He glanced around, and that's when it dawned on all of us that Chrom was literally the only guy in the room. "Oh. Huh. I… actually, I don't know a good way to reply without sounding like an ass."

"Then you may keep quiet, and let me give you my news." She smiled slightly. "The army is mobilizing, and we'll be ready soon." Chrom and Lissa lit up at that. "Everyone is itching for a fight, and I must say, I'm looking forward to savoring a skirmish or two myself."

"I see." Chrom managed a smile, though he winced as his blooming bruise protested. "So, you'll be coming with us?"

"Of course, a Khan needs her exercise, and I won't send my people to fight where I won't go. I'm even bringing my insignificant other, once he gets his brown ass over here." She sighed. "But no, the oaf is like 'let me send scouts'. He's not good for much, but he'll stop a few stray arrows, at least." She smiled again. "For now, please, rest. You will need it in the coming days. No one knows war like a Feroxi, so believe me when I say…" Her smile fell and her expression became grave. "War is a beast, and it devours all that it wishes, without regard for anything but its own hunger. When it passes by, all fall victim to it, in body, in spirit, and in mind. There are no victors when War comes, only survivors, and it will take everything you have to be one of those survivors, no matter how strong you are." The sobering words echoed in the silence. "Rest, and gather your reserves. You will need them."

"...Thank you, Flavia." Chrom's own words were soft. "We'll… do that." And so we all went our own ways, with Sumia clinging close to me, and Maribelle taking charge of Chrom and Lissa.

Flavia watched us leave, and I didn't even need to glance back to know she was staring at us worriedly. She was afraid of what this war would do to us, because she was kind, and she might have even been praying to War itself to let us survive.

I checked in on everyone. I couldn't… not. There was nothing to do, and so, I fretted. In my fretting, I went to see if anyone needed help. I checked in on Frederick first, but he was instructing Sully, Stahl, and Kellam in lances, so I left them be. Robin had locked himself in his room, studying, and I just left him extra candles for when it got darker. Lissa was with Maribelle, having tea. I couldn't find Sumia, but a quick word with a servant told me she and Cordelia went flying to calm their minds. Miriel, Ricken, and Virion were in the library. Panne was curled up in the stables with the horses, chatting with them. Lon'qu and Vaike were actually sparring.

I sighed as I wandered the halls, almost put out that no one needed help. I thought about just cooking for everyone, if only to have something to do, but a quick glance to the sky told me that it was far too early to start cooking dinner. Grimacing, I decided to head towards Chrom's room and asking if he'd like to spar, since at least we'd be distracted for a bit. When I got to his room, though, I heard a strange clanging crash sound and burst in, wondering what the hell was going on.

Even when I was there, I couldn't figure it out for a second, though. Chrom was on his feet, Falchion in his hands, and the Fire Emblem was on the ground a short distance away, flipped over like it had been thrown.

"Chrom?" I whispered. There was no response. "Chrom, it's Kestrel. Can you hear me?" I knocked on the door frame when there was still nothing. "I guess you're in your own world." I walked further in, closing the door behind me, and bent to pick up the Fire Emblem.

"Don't touch it," Chrom hissed. He glowered at the thing. "Just…"

"Why don't I get it out of sight?" I used my foot to push it under the bed, and turned to face him. "So, what happened? Did it fall while you were practicing?"

"No, I tried to break it." His words were anger and bitter. "But while I'm a master at accidentally breaking things, but the one time I really want to break something important on purpose, it's impervious to damage."

"Well, it's older than the Hero-King, just like Falchion." I reached over and slowly pried his hands off the hilt. "You shouldn't wield this when you're so angry." I noticed that while there was no bruise on his face now, likely tended to by Lissa and Maribelle before they had their tea, his left hand was swollen. "Did you try to punch it at first?"

"...Yes." He slowly relaxed, and let me take Falchion from him. I set it against the wall nearby. "Emm gave me the Fire Emblem while she went off to a trap."

"So, you wanted to be rid of it, since losing it might mean Emmeryn could come back?"

"Hell if I know." He flopped onto his bed, the anger fading for fear. "I don't know anything. I don't know about Emm. I don't know about Phila. I don't know about our soldiers. I don't know about our people. I don't know anything." He looked up at me, like a lost child. "I feel like I'm back then. Fifteen years ago, when the war was going on. I didn't know anything then either. I just knew people were angry, about everything, and people slowly starved after some bad battle and peasants were conscripted and killed, and…" He groaned. "Three months. Not even. In three months, Ylisse was ruined, all because of my father. Emm spent the last fifteen years trying to heal the wounds, but now they're just…"

"Sometimes, you have to reopen a wound, because something was healed within it, or infection set in." I moved to the window and drew back the curtain to get some actual sunlight into here. He flinched at the light. "Ylisse might've been healing well, but Plegia's wounds festered."

"Reminds me of the old stories of Ylisse and Plegia being mirrors of each other. If one fell, so would the other." He fell silent, and I fussed about his room, tidying things up. "I'm not going to see Emm again, am I?"

"You don't know that."

"She told me to 'be happy'. The last person to use that as a goodbye never came back." He scowled at the wall. "No, Clara never came back at all."

"Clara?" I didn't know that name. "Who's Clara?"

"My father's best friend. She disappeared after he died, and I haven't seen her since." He sighed, relaxing slowly. "I'm apparently the last person to see her. My memory is a blur about it though. Nothing made sense."


"Yeah." He sighed, glancing out the window. "Maybe she went after the assassin that killed my father. Maybe she was the assassin. Honestly, no one knows a damn thing. She came back from conquering Plegia Castle, gave Mother a hug, went to see my father, and just… disappeared."

"You miss her."

"She was basically my aunt. My father affectionately called her 'sister', even, and Mother talked fondly of her even after she left. Most condemned her, though. After all, she was my father's right hand." He laughed bitterly. "Plegia must really hate her, though. She was the Holy Swordsman of Ylisse-"

"Oh, her!" I gasped, startled. I knew that title. Many heralded her as one of the strongest swordsmen of the entire continent, even fifteen years later. "I never heard her actual name."

"I guess that was a way of trying to erase her. You never really hear my parents' names either." He looked over at me. "Maybe that'll happen to Emm and me too. Maybe it was too much to think we could atone for my father."

"Or maybe you just need a little more time." I sat beside him, and smiled. "Besides, maybe we can change Emmeryn's supposed fate." I rested a hand on his. "I mean… I'm not… so certain on if destiny can be changed, but…" I shrugged. "You're a weirdo. She's a weirdo. Maybe that'll make fate go weird. And then you can repair everything, one step at a time."

"Fate is just a word. Anything can change." He turned his hand over so that he could grasp mine, and he smiled. "Right, we'll… figure out something."

"Of course." I smiled back, though I knew mine was sadder. Destiny was inescapable, though Robin and I had spent our lives trying to anyway. But… "Would you like… some silly stories about Robin and I when we were kids?"

"I'd love to hear." His smile warmed. "I can use them to tease him."

"Precisely." I laughed. "Now then… what's a good one?"

A few days later, Basilio arrived with his own forces. Flavia called Robin, Chrom, Lissa, and me to the meeting with him, and unfortunately, his dark look, even as he tried to smile in greeting, told me that whatever his scouts found, it wasn't good.

"I'll just get straight to the point," Basilio began. All of us were clustered in a little group in a too large room, and it took me a moment to realize this was actually where we'd held the party, post Championship. That felt like lifetimes ago. "It'll take a few more days to rouse Ferox to its full army and, worse, I've dark news."

"Bad news?" Chrom sighed. I reached up to pat his shoulder reassuring, and he gave me a thankful smile. Robin, on the other side of the circle with Lissa, flashed me a teasing grin. I glowered at him. "What is it?"

"I insisted on scouts because I had a bad feeling and, unfortunately, my scouts confirmed it. Ylisstol has fallen, and fell within hours of you even getting here." Basilio's words felt like a slap in the face. "From what I understand, you had a few traitors in your mix. My scouts reported that the traitors were killed by the Plegians, apparently much like how Ylisse killed Plegian turncoats in the past."

"...I've heard that, but neither Emm nor I could ever find a record of it." Chrom winced, and I wondered if those who had killed the traitors had been killed themselves, to keep the secret. "My sister? My people?"

"The city is tattered and the people are bleeding, but it seems civilian casualties were minimal. Army… not so minimal. But once Exalt Emmeryn was captured, they retreated behind their frontlines with her. We've word that there will be a public execution within the moon."

"E-Execution!?" Chrom shook his head slowly, like he was trying to avoid processing the word. "That's-"

"An obvious trap," Robin finished. He frowned heavily, supporting Lissa. She must've collapsed, based on her wide eyes and pale face. "It's not even a subtle one. It's a provocation."

"Exactly," Basilio agreed. He looked annoyed by the thought. "It's a hot brand to the ass, basically. So, we should weigh our options and-"

"We're heading to Plegia," Chrom declared. He turned to march down the halls. "I'll get my Shepherds and-WHOA!" I, however, took advantage of his cape and snagged him by it, tugging him off balance. "Hey!"

"Thank you, Kestrel." Basilio sighed. "Now, then, I will admit that is one option." He waited for me to tug Chrom back to my side. "However, I think we've had enough royals waltzing into traps for the next century, yes?"

"He's going to murder her!" Chrom's eyes blazed with anger, but his posture was defensive, and fearful. "I don't-"

"Chrom, reminder, you lead people, and if this goes wrong, you'll lead them to their deaths," I pointed out lightly. It was enough to deflate him, though. "Now, then, no one is suggesting we don't act."

"She's right," Flavia confirmed. She scowled at Chrom. "We simply need to act wisely. We'll need guts and wits in equal measure if we're to pull anything off."

"Which, if you give me a day, I can do," Robin replied, almost airily. All eyes turned to him, and I was startled by the ferocity in his eyes. "I'll think of something, Chrom. I promise. Just wait a day."

"Are you certain you can?" Flavia turned her scowl to him, but he met the look without even a little hesitation. "You'll hold Exalt Emmeryn's life in one hand, and all of ours in the other, you know."

"A difficult task, but I can do it." Robin's words were firm. "I don't take the responsibility lightly, but I am equal to the challenge."

"...Ha…" Flavia started laughing, to everyone's surprise. "Well, you've got stones, at least! I like it!"

"No hesitation, no mincing words," Basilio agreed. He started laughing too. "You're either a genius or a fool, but I suppose we'll see which it is on the march!"

There was a bit more talking, but everyone soon scattered. Basilio and Flavia went to rally up a strike force to accompany us for this. Robin went to his room to study, while Lissa wandered off on her own and Chrom bolted out. I hesitated, trying to think of where to go, before realizing something.

Plegia meant Grimleal. Robin and I were heading right to the heart of Plegia. I…

My feet took me to Chrom's room, and, noticing the door was open, I simply stepped inside, watching Chrom throw things about the room. He even kicked out the Fire Emblem from under the bed, and I wondered if he was thinking of using it as a bargaining chip for Emmeryn's life. The thought made me nauseous, but mostly because such a choice would be…

"Are you going to try and change my mind, Kestrel?" Chrom asked softly. He stopped what he was doing to look right at me. "You've been staring for a while."

"I somehow doubt anything can change your mind when you're this determined," I replied, voice just as soft. I hesitated, feeling my stomach turn again, this time for other reasons entirely. "It's just… I'm wary of entering Plegia."

"Well, it's enemy territory, and this is a bit reckless, but-"

"That's not why!" I winced as my voice echoed back, and I realized I'd yelled the words. "I…" I started to shake. I was scared. I was really scared. "Well…"

"Kestrel?" Chrom came over and gently took my hands. "Kestrel, if you want to stay behind-"

"I'm not leaving you." The words were heavier than I intended, and I instantly tried to lighten them. "I'm not leaving Robin. I'm not leaving Lissa, or Sumia, or… or any of the Shepherds. I just…" I sighed, and decided that I needed a starting point, like I had with Emmeryn. "Okay." I turned away, and, after hesitating a bit, started undoing the buttons on my shirt.

"Kestrel!?" Chrom's voice was squeaky, and it was so easy to imagine his face going red. "H-hold on! What are you…?"

"Chrom. Just… look at the back of my shoulder. My left shoulder."

"U-um… okay?" He still sounded squeaky. "What am I…?" He trailed off, and I knew he'd seen it. I still flinched as I felt him touch the Brand. "Robin has a similar one on his hand. Is it some sort of familial tattoo thing?"

"Not quite." I took a deep breath for courage, and to settle my nerves. "Naga's not the only one with a bloodline." I glanced back nervously, worried he'd be disgusted or scornful or something. But, instead, I just saw curiosity. "Grima… has one too. Robin and I…"

"You mentioned being on the run from your father. Is that why he had so many people to send after you? He's high ranked?"

"A bit. It's… complicated, and I'm sorry, I can't…" My voice cracked. I couldn't say it. I couldn't say I was a Vessel. I couldn't admit it. "I…"

Chrom wrapped his arms around me, tugging me into a hug. "No, don't force yourself." His voice was firm. "You're Kestrel, a wonderful woman, a kind friend, and a fierce fighter. Your past is your own, and what you want to tell me, I'll gladly listen, but I don't want you to force yourself, when it's clearly so painful."

"Even if I'm of Grima?"

"So what? You're still you." He rested his cheek on my head, and I closed my eyes, leaning back into the hug. It was soothing, and comforting. "Will people still be after you, even though your father is dead?"

"I think so. Or it might… just come up? I don't know." My voice cracked again. "I don't know. I've only ever run. Yet now, Robin and I are heading deeper into Plegia than we ever dared. So I don't know what will happen."

"I see." Silence fell, but he didn't let go of me. If anything, his hold on me tightened. "I'll keep you safe." His words were soft, and certain. "I'll keep you and Robin safe. I promise."

"You're… so ridiculous." I laughed a bit, unable to help it. It was just so him to say that. "You're really too kind." I tilted my head back and managed a smile. "You know that you're hugging a half-shirtless girl, though, right?"

"Huh?" His expression blanked before his face went beet-red and he jumped back, not looking at me. "I… I'm sorry! I just… you seemed like… okay, I just really wanted to hug you, and I'm impulsive, but I swear I didn't mean anything by it! I just… um…" He went redder as I laughed. "Um…"

"If I thought you had ulterior motives, I would've thrown you." I buttoned up my shirt, and turned to face him. "I… needed the hug, I think."

"Happy to oblige, though I should've asked or waited or…" He groaned, sitting on his bed. "I'm… just going to continue packing."

"Alright." I still giggled, far too amused by his reaction, but it died as I watched him fuss about the room, throwing things into his pack at random. "Do you want help?"

"Shouldn't you pack?"

"All the years on the run, and you think I'm not good at packing? I've been packed." I sat down on the bed. "So, I'm free."

"Maybe later, but I like trying to think through things."

"Alright." I hesitated. "Do you mind… if I just stay in here anyway? I'll stay out of the way."

"You could never be in the way in the first place." He gave me a warm smile, and I returned it gladly, feeling a little giddy. "Won't you be bored?"

"I'm never bored when I'm with you. Besides, you have books. I can read." I twisted around actually, snagged a book from his nightstand, and began reading, stretched out on the bed. "Oh, is this a story of the War with Bern, from the Elibean Saga?"

"Yeah, though it's not a Ribald retelling."

"That's not all I read!" I laughed and started reading, humming a little as I did so. Chrom wandered the room, slowly packing for the trip. Every once in a while, the two of us chatted about some random thing we thought of, but we spent a lot of it in silence. Strangely content silence.

I… liked it. I liked him. Oh, gods, I had it bad, didn't I?

Notes on Maribelle:

Class - Troubadour; Reclass - Mage, Pegasus Knight

A high-ranked, high-class, somewhat bigoted member of the Shepherds, who is incredibly loyal to Lissa and Chrom. Especially Lissa. Something about Lissa being her first friend.

A very capable healer, with strong magic and some uncanny good luck. Her refusal to build up her physical strength limits her defenses, though.

Despite her bigotry against commoners, she is adamant that the laws should be equal for everyone and that justice shouldn't just go to whoever can pay the highest. To that end, she studies hard to become a magistrate.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8) The Grimleal

So, we make our way into Plegia. Within a day, we're deeper within than I've ever been, and I twitch at every single movement in the distant sands. I make sure all of our equipment is still good for desert travel. I ended up being the one getting all the lists together, as I am the only person who has ever traveled through the Plegian deserts.

None of us are prepared for hiking and traveling through a desert. This is going to be bad.

Sand sucked. Deserts sucked. This part of Plegia sucked.

"I think I have sand in places I didn't know I had," Robin grumbled. He tucked his hood a little more firmly over his head, glowering at the sand-filled wind. We weren't in danger of a sandstorm, yet, but it was still annoying. "It's so bloody hot. Can't I take off my jacket?"

"Do you want a sunburn on top of everything?" I retorted instantly, fixing my own hood. I'd just had to deal with Lissa removing her socks, and then complaining about how her shoes were chaffing her feet. "This is why I told everyone to wear loose clothing, but did some of you listen?" I looked pointedly at Vaike, who was actually being carried now due to bad sunburns and sun poisoning. "No, of course not. Make the one person who remembers traveling through a desert make the lists and then ignore half of it. That's smart."

"You're still mad."

"Yes, especially since everyone is now complaining and they wouldn't be as bad off if they'd listened!" I glowered at the ground. "Why wouldn't I be pissed off?"

"I will make sure that everyone who ignored your advice gives you a proper apology once the sun has finished cooking their brains."

"Too late for most of them."

"You know, though, I didn't see most Plegians wearing-"

"You've mostly seen soldiers and, more importantly, soldiers who weren't fighting in their home terrain. They wore proper stuff when actually traveling." I held up a hand when he opened his mouth again. "We'll also be fighting soldiers who won't be traveling and will have had proper shelter prior to coming out to fight us. We're hiking through the desert."

"Everything okay, you two?" Chrom appeared next to me, frowning at us worriedly. I was slightly mollified at how he was wearing clothes I'd recommended, from long loose clothes to a hooded cloak to protect his head. Though, his also had other practical reasons: hiding his Mark of the Exalt. "You seem to be arguing?" he continued. "Or at least grumbling."

"Kestrel is understandably still upset that some of the Shepherds didn't listen to her advice, and now have the gall to complain," Robin explained with a bright smile. I groaned to emphasize his words, and he laughed. "Then she was explaining to me why what I'd seen Plegians wear is different from what she recommended."

"I see." Chrom gave me a sympathetic smile before looking ahead, towards the neverending sands. "I'd like to think it's our cunning that got us this far, but honestly, this is ridiculous." Chrom sighed. "Whatever trap Gangrel has prepared, he certainly is in no hurry to spring it."

"Based on his sadistic mannerisms, I would guess he will spring it when we are near Emmeryn, to maximize the pain, frustration, and helplessness we feel." Robin's voice was almost too soft to hear over the wind. "That's my guess, though."

"Alternatively, he's simply letting the General Desert do the work for him, much like how we'll be relying on General Winter in Ferox once this is completed," I sighed. They both gave me surprised looks. "In case you haven't noticed, deserts suck. A lot. We're expending a lot of energy and supplies crossing it, and we have to take a longer route to avoid getting caught by patrols on the main road. Winter's the same up in Ferox, where it plays a substantial role in their defenses. Flavia suspects winter will come early, so after this, it'll be better to hole up and gather supplies."

"I wonder why Gangrel chose to now to attack then," Robin murmured. He frowned, pressing his hand to his mouth as he thought. "I mean… unless Gangrel can end this in this battle, not freaking likely, then wouldn't his approval take a huge hit? He's conquered Ylisse, yes, and has Emmeryn, but unless Chrom and Lissa die in this next encounter, again not freaking likely, then the people still have a rallying point."

"You're thinking Gangrel might've fallen into a trap himself?"

"Maybe?" He shrugged, sighing. "Like I said, unless he gets a total victory in this one battle, his approval will take a big hit. He could use the winter to reclaim it, but at the same time, why take that risk? It's like someone who advises him wants him to fall." He glanced at Chrom and me. "Is there anyone who will benefit?"

"I don't know Plegian politics, I'm afraid," Chrom answered regretfully. A particularly playful gust of wind nearly knocked his hood off, but he reached up and caught it quickly. "But, I imagine there's someone ."

"Grimleal might," I whispered. I shuddered, thinking of the bits of Plegian politics I knew. "The Grimleal are supposed to advise the king. If the decided Gangrel was too much trouble, they might 'advise' him into political suicide." I could see my father doing that, easily, and I could see that Aversa woman doing the same. "Then they could install a different king, one more likely to go along with their plans…" If that was the case, then Gangrel was just a… false king. A pawn, a jester dressed up as a king, being maneuvered by the 'true king'. But who would it be? My father was dead, so perhaps the new Hierophant?

"Captain Chrom!" All thoughts scattered as Cordelia swooped down in front of us. "Fighting to the south," she reported breathlessly, looking distinctly windswept. I wondered how fast she had flown to reach us. "Grimleal, based on the magic we saw." I tried not to stiffen. Chrom snuck his hand into mine and squeezed it reassuringly. "Orders?"

"Let's press on," Chrom answered. He looked to Robin, and they shared a nod. "Take Gaius with you and get me numbers and a rough map of the area. Tell Sumia to fall back with us. I'll need her to help our mounted keep their horses calm, alongside Frederick."

"Understood!" Cordelia took off then, and I worried she might be pushing herself. But there was no time, as we had to get ready for a battle. In the heat. And sand. With Grimleal.

Please… let Robin and I get through this. Let everyone get through this.

I hated deserts. I hated sand. I hated heat, especially like this. We had four people drop from heat exhaustion. Thankfully, healers got to them before the enemies, but this was possible a worst case scenario. It was all the worst because we were trying to reach a little girl wearing too little clothing, especially for the desert, who was being chased by a visibly older male.

"I am… so tired… of all this…" Robin bit out as he cast another spell. He and I were back to back, but he was panting. His lower stamina was starting to kick in. "Also, am I imagining the little bits of red radiating off or is that heat?"

"Neither, it's a magic that is not magic that your Insight lets you pick up," I replied. I grimaced as my footing shifted in the sands. "What do you see?"

"It's almost like red hands that trip people up?"

"I think it's called Anathema. You got it from our father. Is this the first time you've noticed it?"

"Well, typically speaking, there tends to always be a lot of red around me. My thunder spells tend make things explode." Robin hummed a little in thought, and leaned against me. "Wonder why. Miriel was curious."

"Mom. Something you got from Mom. I think. I didn't get it." I sighed, wondering just what I might've gotten from her. I knew what I inherited from my father. Maybe I just didn't get anything from her… "Don't ask me what. I've no clue. I just know she was strong, and was able to learn curses despite not being a sorcerer."

"Isn't that… against the rules or something?" Robin leaned further on me. My back was starting to actually itch from the sweat. "...We're of…"


"So Mom…"

"Not her. Our father. Who is happily dead."

"How powerful is the Hierophant?"


"What was her rank?"

"High Priestess. Her skill at curses and spells is what led her to become it." Maybe that was why she had left. She hadn't been born into it. She had just clawed her way up to the highest position a woman could reach. And then she'd thrown it all away to make sure we didn't end up as sacrifices.

"Wish I could remember her. Tell me more later?"

"What bits I can remember, sure." I sighed and then shrugged him off of me. "C'mon… you're heavy."

"No, don't make me stand up!" His voice became playful and whiney. "No!"

"What are the people going to say when they see their tactician acting like a child?"

"Probably wonder why his sister is being so mean!" He laughed, but it cut off abruptly as he whirled, tome crackling with power. "Damn, the girl…!"

I almost asked, but then I saw a swordsman had actually targeted the girl, swinging for her very unguarded abdomen. Before I could yell, though, bright light wrapped itself around the girl, almost blinding under the desert sun. When the light cleared, there was… there was a dragon. There was a dragon. There was a dragon.

Holy hell, the girl was a manakete.

"That was…" Robin breathed. He stared, jaw dropped and everything, as the dragon-girl breathed some sort of misty breath to take out the swordsman in one hit. "This is…"

"She doesn't need our help so much as we could really use hers," I summarized. "A taguel and a manakete. What the hell?"


"Think Taguel, but rarer, and dragons." What was she doing here? I'd heard there were some across the sea in Valm, but I'd never met anyone who'd met one. "I'm going to head closer."

"And I'm going to stay away from the dragon like the smart person I am." He ducked under my half-hearted swipe. "Love you."

"Love you too." I sighed and made my slow, slipping way over to the dragon. My legs ached and my arms shook, reminding me that I either needed my second wind soon or collapse. I had gotten lucky so far on injuries, though, so that was nice. The problem was keeping it that way when we still had at least ten, maybe even twenty Grimleal fighting us. Maybe more.

"Keep away from her, creep!" Still, there was something amusing about Lissa scowling and looking all fierce as the dragon shifted back to a little girl who quickly darted behind Lissa. As if Lissa were somehow scarier. "Men like you are horrible," she continued, looking almost like an almighty mom despite how much younger she was. "Horrible!"

"Horrible?" The man who had been chasing the dragon-girl looked almost distressed. "This day has been nothing but insults and punches to the groin. Maybe you cannot see, but does not Gregor have innocent baby-face?"

"Nope." Lissa glowered. "So-"

"Bah, never be minding." The man sighed, and an old memory bubbled through my head, about an old, famous mercenary, one skilled enough to actually have once been a contender for the title of West Khan. "Look, Gregor just wants to do good deed."

Gregor. That's right. I'd heard it while traveling. Gregor, a mercenary who spoke in a heavy accent no one recognized, who had a bad grasp of Common, but also had a wicked skill with a blade to survive many, many years as a mercenary.

"You're Gregor, right?" I called. Lissa, the dragon-girl, and the man looked to me. "Right?" The man nodded. "The really famous mercenary?" I glanced at Lissa, noting the grateful smile Gregor gave me. "Gods damn it, hire him. I'm sure he'll like getting away from Grimleal. They've a habit of killing mercenaries to get out of paying."

"Gregor also does not like those who sell people," Gregor replied. He grinned, saluting me. "So, let us be making with evil people dying, yes?"

"Yeah, sure." I shrugged, feeling a little dazed by things. A sudden bad feeling washed over me, and I shivered, feeling like I was in shadow, or that the sun had set. "Lissa, take them to the back, okay?" I had no idea why I felt like this. I wondered if it was just someone using dark magic, since I had such a bad association with it. "Go on." Lissa made some noise of agreement and led the two off. I looked around, trying to figure out what caused the bad feeling. Something, an arrow maybe, flew over my shoulder, reminding me that there were still enemies and I really didn't have the time to figure it out. But then something bounced off my shoulder, tumbling down my arm to hit the sand below.

When I looked down, I saw it was a red-capped robin, dead with blood trickling into the sand underneath. A male one, since it, you know, had the distinctive red-cap.

"Robin?" I called, fear flooding me. I looked around wildly, ignoring how another arrow clipped my cheek. "Robin?" Instead, I hunted for Robin, wishing I had stayed by him, since the sandy wind and chaotic battle made it hard to find anyone. "Robin?!" I nearly cried when I finally found him a distance away, just within sight. He was batting an archer, keeping them off of Sumia. I took a step that way, and then saw something else. A mage, carrying a purple tome, wearing the uniform of a rank-and-file soldier of the Grimleal.

Everything slowed to a crawl; I felt like I was complete separated from everything. I watched the mage, the dark mage, cast their spell. I watched the spell slink through the shadows, aimed right for Robin. I watched as the spell reared up from his own shadow, ready to strike. I watched as Chrom, from out of freaking nowhere, slide between Robin and the spell. I watched as blood flew. I watched each drop dance on the wind, like petals. Nothing felt real until I heard someone, maybe Lissa, shriek in pure horror. Sounded like her.

Then something in my head snapped and I let my temper roar.

My blood burned and bubbled under my skin as I screamed, and the wind stilled, frightened into submission as the sound echoed back. Black flames wrapped around me, my 'Vengeance', inherited from my damnable father. A skill normally only useable by sorcerers but my damn blood, and my being adamn Vessel, gave me skills I shouldn't have. Because I was Grima, not human, and human rules weren't mine to follow!

I kicked up a fallen tome and cast it at random before even grabbing it from the air. A mage went down. I snatched the tome, noticing now it was purple, and cast another spell, this time making sure to target the one who had targeted Robin, and attacked Chrom. Then I twisted and cast it a third time, aimed at another random soldier.

Someone attacked me. I didn't know who. I couldn't see them. It could've been one of the Shepherds, terrified of me. But I didn't care. I didn't care. I didn't care, so long as these bastards all burned!

My blood cracked and bit into my skin as I fought with both the tome and the sword. I ignored it. Weapons carved into me. I ignored them. Magic peppered me. I ignored them. Pain tried to overwhelm me. I turned it into strength, through 'Vengeance'. The more they made me bleed, the stronger I became. The more I bled, the more they bled. Their blood splattered everything. My own burned within, cackling with glee at releasing everything. At releasing the full wrath of a Vessel. Of stepping so, so close to Grima.

The laughter I'd heard that day, back when I killed my father, echoed through my head. The panic flooding me just made me all the more reckless and hit everything harder.

One lucky enemy managed to get a pretty bad hit on me, right across the chest, but I held on through sheer determination and luck. Realizing I wasn't dead, they stared at me with wide eyes and trembling body as they stumbled back. "L-lady Raven?" they whispered. Their voice shook. "B-but how…? You… you're dead…"

I didn't answer. I just swung down as hard as I could right on their skull, the dark flames wrapping around and letting me cleave straight through the body. As they fell, I looked around the area, and saw only blood, corpses, and looks of fearful awe directed towards me from my friends. I directed my attention to myself and noticed how my wounds bled, blending in with the blood of the fallen, and covering the burns from various spells.

I could almost laugh. I'd been so careful to not let them see how much of a monster I was, but here I went, proving myself to be the worst kind, the kind that looked human. Now, they looked afraid, just as I feared, and I just wanted to run, but the pain was flooding me and I just wanted to collapse. But I couldn't because now… now I didn't know what they'd do. I didn't know…

"Kestrel?" Sumia suddenly appeared in front of me. It took me a couple of blinks to realize she had likely just flown down and walked over, but everything had hurt too much, and I'd been too fearful, to notice. "Kestrel, hey, are you okay?" she asked me, looking so genuine, so worried, that it just made everything hurt more. "Kestrel?"

"I…" I tried to say. But my voice rasped, and the one word broke the damn. Tears streamed down my face and my knees buckled. But Sumia caught me before I hit the ground. "I'm sorry… I'm sorry… I'm sorry…" I clung to her, whispering apologies over and over again.

I didn't want to be alone again. If I apologized enough, maybe I'd be allowed to stay anyway? Despite being a monster? I hoped… gods, did I ever hope…

Sumia tried to get me to go to the healers. I begged to just be dropped off at my tent, citing that Chrom was near death. Miriel actually had to use a thunder tome to restart his heart at one point. I would live. I hurt, and I hobbled, but I'd live. I eventually won her over, but she insisted on helping me clean my numerous injuries. They were bad, jagged lines of red and blotchy patches of pink all over most of me, and I kept reopening them as we tried to clean them. Sumia demanded to get a healer, and she might've won that argument, except Frederick yelled for her, saying they needed her and Cordelia to make sure the camp was secure.

I had urged her to go, whispering that we needed to keep everyone safe, and she'd eventually left, but not before giving me a quick, but warm, hug. Then, in the safety of my tent, I worked on bandaging up my own injuries. Everything burned and ached, with pain rippling through at each movement. But I eventually got everything bandaged, and so I fell back on some pillows, curling up in them as I tried to hide from the world. I tried to stretch to reach a blanket, but winced in pain at the last second and curled up into a tighter ball. Then I relaxed a little because my back ached.

I overdid it. A lot. I hated everything.

"Kestrel?" Someone was calling me. "Kestrel, where are you?" Someone was running around outside my tent. "Kestrel? Come out here! I need to speak with you!" I curled into the pillows and tried to burrow under them, hiding from everything. "Kestrel!" I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want anything but to be left alone.

...No, that wasn't true. I didn't want to be alone. I wasn't okay with 'alone' anymore. Not since these crazy Shepherds brought such light and color to my dark and grey life. I'd been content, but now I wasn't. Gods, I could almost hate them, if I didn't love them all so much.

"Kestrel, are you in here?" The flap of my tent opened with a strange slapping sound, like someone was hitting it out of the way for daring to block their bath. "Kestrel?" The voice was no-nonsense and haughty. I finally recognized it as Maribelle's voice. "...Kestrel, I can see your hair among the pillows. I know you're here."

"Damn it," I groaned, reluctantly pushing myself up. "What do you want?" My arms trembled from the effort, and my hips and legs protested the shifts in movement to sit up. "Can't a girl just rest in peace?"

"Well, not with that phrasing." Maribelle stomped over and crouched down in front of me, giving me the most irritated look. "Besides, we both know you're not 'resting. You're hiding and hiding is most unbecoming, you know."

I bristled, irritated that she'd figured it out so quickly, annoyed that she had dismissed it even quicker. "Oh, gods, fu-"

"Nope." She bopped me on the head. She actually bopped me on the head. Lightly. But still. "While I'm attracted to women as well as men, my dear, I must admit you are not quite my type. We'd mother each other too much."

"I'm pleased to hear that, since you're not my type either." My voice was as dry as possible. "No, just let the monster hide." I didn't mean to let that slip.

Her eyes widened a bit at it. "And why do you call yourself that?"

"Because that's what I am!" My voice cracked and I scooted away from Maribelle. "And that's… what everyone's eyes said." I tried to hide in the corner, pulling some pillows up to try and shield myself. It didn't work. I still saw her staring right at me, and I ached from even trying. "They were scared."

"...Well, yes, we were." Her voice was soft, and I couldn't decide if her honesty hurt or comforted. "You never gave any hint you could do that. One second, we're all fighting with the scariest thing being that Nowi girl who transforms into a dragon, and the next, you're tearing through enemies, somehow, on your own-"

"Vengeance. It's a sorcery skill. Magic that isn't magic. Turns pain into power. The more I bleed, the stronger I become, providing I have the skill to tap into the strength. But it's pretty damn easy to do so. So, the more they attacked me, the more damage I did to them in retaliation."

"See? Proper explanation." She sounded just so damn nonchalant. My annoyance flared back. "So-"

"Except you all saw how much damage I took!" My voice echoed back, each syllable feeling like a slap to the face. "You saw how much I bled! I-"

"Everyone has their strengths." She still sounded so nonchalant! I couldn't understand it! I could wring her neck for it, except I just couldn't understand why she could so easily brush it off! "I can sit through a five hour court dinner without my rear going numb. Lissa can run all over the place and never twist her ankles. Vaike surpasses all logical reaches of stupidity." She paused, as if waiting for a reaction, but I simply curled further into myself. "So, you can bleed more than most. It happens." But it didn't. It did- "I don't know why you hate yourself so much, Kestrel. You are a wonderful woman, if secretive. But the world doesn't hate you as much as you think." She paused as I burst into raucous, bitter laughter. "Er…"

"I'm like…" My own laughter cut me off, because the notion just seemed so ridiculous to me. "Almost one-hundred-percent certain the gods hate me even more than I hate myself."

"...Well, we don't. We Shepherds, I mean. And if the gods have a problem with that, then they can come on down for me to give them a good smack with my parasol." She sighed, and ignored my stunned look of disbelief. "Yes, I mean that. We love you. Even if you did scare us a little. But, well, as Lissa said, she ultimately felt more scared that you'd somehow gone away."

"But…" I couldn't… wrap my head around that. I really couldn't. "But…"

"But, I didn't come in here to scold or… anything." She just… rolled with everything. "I'm sorry. My… abrasiveness shows itself more when I'm stressed, and I'm most worried about your injuries. Sumia told me they were bad."

"I'm fine." I laughed again, this time just darkly. "I'm really hard to kill."

"That doesn't mean I stop worrying. 'Hard' does not mean 'impossible'." She sighed once more. "But that's not the only reason I'm here. Chrom is asking for you." She paused again, but this time, it was to bring up her hand to stop my yelp of surprise. "No, he's not quite conscious. It… was a bad hit. He'll live, but it was a bad hit. It'll take him some time to recover. I put Lon'qu in charge of making sure Robin doesn't overwork himself from guilt."

"Lon'qu." The mental image alone made me cringe from second-hand embarrassment. "Really."

"I should think the awkwardness will make Robin laugh." She held out her hand to me. "But, I'm not joking about Chrom. He's not quite conscious, and he keeps whispering your name. Won't you please come with me? I fear he will not get proper rest while he seeks you out."

"I…" I hesitated. I was scared. I was so… so… "I'm scared."

"I know, darling. You wouldn't be hiding here if not." She smiled at me, and it was a warm smile. I saw no fear in her at all. "But I'll be near, and if anyone even tries to be mad, they can deal with me." She meant the words. That was easy to tell. She was simply too sincere to lie. Maybe that was the cause of so much of her 'abrasiveness'. She was horribly, wonderfully honest. "Will you?" I still hesitated, but then I shyly took her hand. Her smile grew. "Come along, darling. Lean on me."

"Why are you so nice to me?" I had to hobble just to lean on her. "I mean…"

"You are dear to Chrom and Lissa. You saved them countless of times, and you saved me. It would be much harder to be mean to you." She hooked my arm around her shoulders and took most of my weight, despite not being very strong herself. "Though, I must admit. I was cross when I couldn't find you."

"I'm sorry."

"Well, how about instead of apologizing, you step out of the dark nest you're used to burrowing in and actually look around at us?" She managed to get us out of my tent. "We like you. It'll take much more than what you're able to do, or your past, to make us dislike you. Even Frederick says so."

"Wow, now I really have to believe that." We made it a few more steps. I was a bit heavy for her, but she stubbornly kept on helping me. "...Thank you, Maribelle."

"And that's another thing you can do. Thank people instead of apologizing. I promise; you'll feel much better for it." We lapsed into silence as we made it Chrom's tent. It wasn't actually far away from mine, but it felt infinitely longer since each step almost felt like a dagger was jammed into my foot. Repeatedly. "Stay here, okay? I'll be back to give you a check over."

"Take a rest on your own, first." I moved off her and gave her a worried smile. "I mean it when I say I'm hard to kill. Go get some tea with Lissa or tease someone. I'll stay… right here. Promise."

She gave me a long look before nodding. "Alright, but I'll send someone to check on you. That sound fair?"

"Yeah, more than fair. Sorry for…" I trailed off as she gave me a look. "Um… thank you for taking care of me?"

"It'll do." She gave me a smile. "Now, in you go." She made a pushing motion, but didn't actually push me, likely knowing how much I hurt.

So, I breathed in deeply, wincing a little as even that hurt, and then stumbled into Chrom's tent. He was lying on his cot, blankets tucked around him semi-neatly. His chest was bandaged heavily, focusing closely on where the magic had struck: right around his heart. I noticed a chair set up next to him and hesitantly sat in it, noticing how he tossed in his sleep, one hand twitching like he was hunting for something.

"Kes…" he whispered. My heart jumped and my face flushed. Maribelle hadn't been joking. "Kes… where…?"

"I'm…" I began. My voice rasped, and my face heated up even more. "I-I'm here." Slowly, I took his hand and squeezed it. "I'm… right here."

"Kes…" He stopped tossing, and he seemed to relax. At the least, he didn't look quite so troubled. "I…"

"I'm here." The words were a little more firm, and I shifted in the chair slightly, trying to get comfortable. My back ached, so I scooted the chair closer. That way, I could hold his hand without leaning over awkwardly. "I'm… not leaving, Chrom. I'm here."

I wasn't sure if I actually had any effect. But he relaxed further, slumbering peacefully, and I kept holding onto his hand, even as I nodded off. I at least… felt needed. That would be enough.

Something soft and warm fell on me, and I stirred awake, free hand dropping to where I normally kept my sword. But there was no sword, just more of the soft and warm thing. I blinked slowly, whimpering a little as pain, less than before but still present, started stabbing through my drowsiness. It took me a couple of blinks to remember I was in Chrom's tent, not mine, and that the reason why I even had a 'free hand' instead of simply 'a hand' was because I was holding Chrom's hand while he rested from a bad injury. It took me a couple more blinks, and a yawn, to realize the 'soft and warm' thing on me was a blanket. Another yawn later, I actually thought to look up and I saw Sumia smiling at me.

"You weren't in your tent, so I got worried," she explained. There was something a bit off about her smile, though. "Maribelle said you were here."

"Yeah, Chrom…" I began. But my sleepy brain put the pieces together and I realized what was off. She was hurt. Because Maribelle likely had told her that Chrom had asked for me. "Ah…" Automatically, I made to drop Chrom's hand, to stand up and apologize, but she shook her head and instead leaned down to hug me.

"It's fine." Her voice was soft, and maybe a little fragile. It wasn't really 'fine'. My heart broke for her. "I told you. I love you both." I wanted to apologize, though. For hurting her. For being confused. For wondering just what it meant that Chrom had, in his sleep, asked for me. Did it mean what I thought it meant? Was it just me pushing my hopes on something innocuous? Even if it did mean what I thought, would anything come of it? He'd already told me his half-thought plans for romance and marriage, and I wasn't someone who'd be a good queen. There was no way his court would accept me, especially given the war.

But I didn't say any of that because I knew this wasn't the time. There were no answers to any of my questions. So, instead… "Thank you for the hug." I made sure to smile up at her. She smiled back, just as warmly. There was still pain in it, but it was warm. "And the blanket. What time is it?"

"Middle of second watch." She brushed the hair out of my face, and moved behind me to tie it back into its normal ponytail. "You missed dinner."

"And a great deal else." I held perfectly still as she carefully finger-combed my hair. "Did you just get back?"

"No, I was back a little earlier and found you. But then I went looking for a blanket, and uh… broke a few things…" Her voice sounded so sheepish. "Then I had to help Frederick catch an escaped horse that I… well… might've accidentally let loose when I was feeding them?"

"Did you not lock their paddocks or… whatever we're calling it when we're in the desert without proper fencing?"

"I might have?" She pulled my hair back into a ponytail and then leaned down again to hug me. "Frederick was being all dramatic about the poor thing, though. Called it a demon horse."

"Oh, Sully's horse then." I laughed, thinking of our last camp. "The one who chased Vaike for trying to spy on us while we were bathing in the oasis."

"Now that you mention it, I think it was." She giggled, and moved back to my side, patting my shoulder. "Need anything?"

"Not right now. I think I'm going to try and go back to sleep, truthfully." I smiled up at her. "Sleep off these injuries."

"I don't think they're something to just 'sleep off'." She laughed, though. "I'll leave you to it, then. I'll check back in a while."

"Night, Sumia." I waved as she headed out, and I sighed, wondering what I did to deserve her. I'd like to do it again. But that was neither here nor there.

I settled into my chair again, clinging to the blanket with my free hand, and glanced around the tent. It was simple, likely because no one had unpacked any of the things Chrom typically set up to make his tent a little more comfortable. Honestly, there was just Chrom in his cot, the chair I sat in, and a small table that had been set up next to me. A glass of water rested on it, likely someone worried I'd get thirsty, but it was almost covered in all the little notes left on the table. I picked up one, noting it was from Cordelia, and it talked about how she hoped he'd be well soon and that she was sorry for not being able to guard him better. A quick look through the others showed they were all similar things. I smiled at them, giggling a little over how many there were. Honestly, there was easily one for each Shepherd, and more likely, there were even three or four from some.

"Mmm…" But a small groan made me drop the note and instead lean over Chrom, legs protesting even that bit of movement. "Ugh…" But Chrom's eyes fluttered open, and I couldn't help but smile as his eyes slowly focused on me. Though, my heart nearly stopped at his sweet smile. "Morning?" he rasped. He tried to push himself up, but winced, gasping from pain, and laid back down. "Ow… what the…?"

"You took a bad hit from a spell," I explained, shifting to sit on the edge of the cot. I still held his hand. "Protecting-"

"Robin." His eyes widened. "How he is?"

"I'm sure he's working himself too much from guilt, though Maribelle supposed set Lon'qu on him to prevent that." I frowned at him, squeezing his hand. "I do… appreciate you keeping him safe as you promised, but you nearly died. That's not how promises should work. You have to live to keep fulfilling them."

"Hey, I didn't die." He had the audacity to grin. "Where are we?"

"A camp we set up. You can't be moved with that injury."

"Do we have the time?"

"Chrom, if you push, you'll literally die. That strike was right at your heart." I rested my hand on his bandages for emphasis. "But that's neither here nor there. I'm going to go get Lissa and Robin." They were the two I knew needed to know Chrom was awake the most. "So, you behave yourself. Lie here and rest."

"But…" He sighed as I scowled. "Oh, fine, I will."

"Good." I squeezed his hand again, and left, limping a bit as my legs protested the sudden change in movement, and just being used after being overworked earlier. I wandered through the quiet camp, wondering just where Robin and Lissa might be. I heard quite a bit of laughter by the campfire, but I was… scared to approach. No matter how much Maribelle had reassured, I was still scared of what they thought of me. Still, I did really want to reassure Robin and Lissa. So, I hesitated, leaning forward towards the warm campfire, and leaning back to cold, but safe, shadows.

Before I could make a decision, though, a strange noise caught my ear, and a stranger… feeling in the air. Frowning, I headed for that direction, straining my ears to see if I could catch the sound again. But I made it all the way to the edge of camp and found nothing unusual. The feeling didn't disappear though. It was like we were being watched, but I couldn't see anything but sand, sand, and more sand.

"Kestrel?" The voice nearly made me yelp, but a gentle hand fell on my shoulder, so I looked up instead to see Robin. "Did you hear something too?" he asked me. I nodded and he sighed. "Okay, that's four."

"Four?" I repeated, curious. But then I looked behind me and saw Panne and the dragon-girl… Nowi, I thought Maribelle called her… walking up. "Damn, I was hoping I was just being paranoid."

"If so, it's all four of us." Robin waved to Panne and Nowi. Panne nodded back, while Nowi cheerfully waved in return. Nowi's eyes, though, looked at us curiously, and I wondered if she could sense the 'dragon' within us. "Anything?"

"Only that you two have sharp senses to pick up anything," Panne murmured. Her eyes narrowed slightly, glaring at something. "I smell blood on the wind. Blood and shadows."

"It smells like those people from before," Nowi added. She pouted, pointing to a dune. "They suck at hide and seek, though. Come on out! We know you're here!"

At first, nothing happened. But then, slowly, some Grimleal, recognizable by their uniforms, stepped out, practically materializing from the sands. They walked forward, and my skin crawled at the deranged hope that filled their eyes, and the sickening grins that split their faces.

"So, it's true…" one whispered. Their grin was the widest. "The Fell Twins really have returned!" They cackled, the sound echoing harshly off the dunes. "What deliverance! Our biggest annoyance has brought us the greatest of gifts!"

"Gifts?" Robin repeated. "Fell twins?" Robin looked confusedly at me. "Does this have to do with the sacrifice thing you mentioned?"

"Basically," I sighed. I didn't recall telling him about sacrifices, but he probably made a guess. It wasn't really a wrong one either. "It also has to do with the fact that by Plegian Law, we're technically nobles of stupidly high rank, though hell if I know what." I sighed, whimpering a little. "This is why we've never come this deep into Plegia."

"Then why did we?"

"Because the Shepherds did and neither of us have enough sense to outweigh our loyalty and love towards them."

"Oh, that makes sense."

"If you're done with your casual bantering, you might need to prepare for a fight," Panne growled. She dropped to all fours, beaststone glowing on her belt. "They're preparing to attack."

"Damn, they are," Robin sighed. He brought up his thunder tome and I… attempted to shift into a fighting stance, but my injures protested vehemently and that was ignoring how I didn't even have my sword on me. "Kestrel?"

"You're hurt badly still," Nowi chimed. She got on her tiptoes, peering up at me worriedly, even as she grabbed her dragonstone from a pouch around her waist. "You should rest up!"

"They're coming on us quickly," I protested. Indeed, the Grimleal looked perfectly ready to barrage us with spells. "Besides, they're after Robin and me, so-!"

A spell flew, a simple fire one. I tried to dodge, but my legs locked up under me and slipped in the sand. Robin moved in front of me, attempting to shield me.

But then someone else shielded both of us, shrugging off the fire spell with an ease that surprised me. After all, it was Frederick, and Great Knights weren't exactly known for their ability to shrug off magic attacks like Paladins.

"You…!" one of the Grimleal hissed. Their eyes flashed in anger, and their fellows, all looking like lovely copies of each other, snarled in almost perfect unison. "What do you think you're doing?"

"What does it look like?" Frederick asked, the picture of calm. His eyes, however, burned with quiet anger and his grip on his javelin was very tight, based on his white knuckles. "I'm protecting them."

"This doesn't concern you Ylisseans! Just go back to your hiding holes as you always have!"

"I'm afraid these two are two very important members of the Shepherds, meaning that it is absolutely my concern that you're throwing magic at them." He spun his lance once, and I caught sight of a flash of blue. "So, you lot…" Frederick's eyes narrowed. "Should really pick a god and pray I miss." He threw the Javelin hard, and it soared through the air, tiny silver-blue sparkles trailing off it as it cleaved straight through the spokesperson. "Ah, looks like you were a little slow."

"And now, I see an opening!" Cordelia swooped down from the damn skies and skewered another Grimleal before flying high into the skies again. The dead Grimleal dangled from her lance for a brief second before falling, right on one of their fellows. I had no idea if she did that on purpose or not. "Attacking our camp while our prince recovers, trying to hurt two of our precious friends…" she growled. Her eyes flashed with fury. "It's not a good idea to anger me, but I suppose 'good ideas' are few and far between with you."

"Is everyone going to come in now with badass boasts?" Robin asked dryly. I couldn't decide how to react, so I just kept staring. "Well, dear sister, I've a question. Why was Frederick's lance glowing? It was like the moonlight, but brighter."

"That… would be Luna," I answered. I looked up at him since he was much easier to figure out, especially right now. "Magic that isn't a magic, but one able to be learned. A bit like your Anathema and my… Vengeance." The Great Knights of Ylisse were famous for it, much like how the Heroes of Ferox had their 'Sol', and the Swordmasters of Chon'sin had their 'Astra'. "And like the Rallies, I suppose."


"A magic that isn't magic where you boost the abilities of allies around you. They're called 'Rallies' because it's like you're 'rallying' your allies to do better. There's speed and defense and strength and…" More movement and I tensed. However, it was just the other Shepherds, coming to battle once more. "Ah."

"Well, Frederick and I are going to deal with this." Robin gave me a quick hug. "Go rest."

"Huh? Wait!" I yelped and tried to snag him, but he was out of reach before long. I stood in place, legs frozen, as I watched the other Shepherds move past me. They gave me reassuring smiles, but I just wanted to grab all of them and beg them to just… run. Or leave it to Robin and me. Because… because…

"Much as we adore you being our watchful goddess, dear lady, you should fall back." Virion appeared beside me, smiling slightly. It fell when I looked up at him though, with all my worries likely written on my face for everyone to see. "Now, what's this? Are you fretting over us?"

"Well, yes!" I squeaked. "People… people who protect Robin and me from the Grimleal have a bad tendency to die!" My voice cracked, but this time, at least, I managed to hold the tears in. I'd seriously turned into some sort of crybaby after meeting these idiots. Though maybe it was just because I finally had things to cry about… "So, yes, I'm scared!"

"Ah, ma cherie." Virion rested his hands on my shoulders and gently kissed the top of my head. "Never fear. We'll deal with these louts and have plenty of time for a tea party afterwards." He grinned as he stepped away, posing dramatically. "After all, I fight alongside these brave souls! How could there be any other outcome but victory?"


"I know it is difficult to hold onto faith when you are so used to things falling apart. But, you must hold onto it nonetheless. You are simply too injured to fight alongside us, and anyone can see it. No doubts that's why they targeted you first."

"But…" But he was right. I knew he was right. Even if I wasn't injured, I'd have to fall back because I simply wasn't armed. "I…" But I was injured, and if I tried to fight like this, I'd likely die. I… I didn't want to die. "Okay…" I hated it. I hated having to just faith. "But if you die, if any of you die, I will kill you. Understand?" I made myself smile. It felt more like a grimace, but Virion smiled back like it was a real smile. "Oh, and Chrom's awake. That's why I was out of the tent in the first place. I was trying to find Robin and Lissa."

"Then I shall share this wondrous news and let that boost our morale even further!" He kissed the top of my head again and stepped back. "And upon our victory, I shall regale you with our tales of valor. Our numbers may be few, but each of us fights with the force of an army even without the deep set resolve that fires our hearts!"

"I'm counting on you all then." This time, my smile felt a little more real, and he winked before racing off, joining the battle. I watched a bit longer, still worried, but then I made myself turn away and made my way back to Chrom's tent.

It was a good thing I did. Chrom was trying to actually get out of bed.

"What are you doing?!" I yelped, lurching forward to keep him from actually standing. Through sheer force of will, he had managed to sit up and swing his legs over the side. But he was pale from the effort, panting heavily and sweating profusely. He winced with each bit of breath, and his eyes were a bit hazy as he looked up at me. "You need to rest!"

"There's… fighting…" he tried to protest. His voice was too weak, though. "I need to…" He tried to stand up, but a simple touch to his shoulder was enough to stop that. "I…"

"Need to rest." I nudged him gently, getting him to lie back down. "The only thing you're going to do if you head out is injure yourself further, just like me." I smiled bitterly, thinking of Virion's gentle scolding. "So, we just… need to have faith." I was so scared, though. But having to fuss over him did help distract me.

"Ugh…" He groaned, but relented, settling back on the cot. "Sorry, Kes…" He paused and then sighed. "Sorry, you said you didn't like your name shortened…"

"Did I?" I couldn't remember. "When?"

"Robin shortened it, back before the weird earthquake, and you told him not to."

"You remember something from back then?" I laughed a little, stunned by his… his ridiculousness. "Well, whatever. I'll let it slide if you promise to behave and be a perfect patient." I tucked the blankets around him, and winced as I pulled a particular injury. "Ah…"

"Let me see." His hands shot out from under the blanket and looked over my arm. He frowned as his fingers brushed over the bandages. "So many… you were this badly hurt? Why didn't I notice?"

"Because you were a little too busy being unconscious and near death. I lost it after you went down and charged the rest of the Grimleal fighting us. This is the price of my recklessness." I laughed hollowly. "It's fine. Maybe. The others were afraid, but they were kind outside, so..."

"Like Panne, when she first joined?" He moved his hand to grasp mine and pulled it down to his chest, where I could feel his heartbeat. I relaxed at the steady 'thump' underneath my hand. "Like Gaius, who you should definitely talk with. He's funny. And scolds me."

"Then I'll definitely like him." I grinned and he laughed, weakly. But his smile was warm. "Go back to sleep, Chrom."

"Not while the others are fighting." He got a stubborn look on his face. "At least let me stay awake while they fight."

"...Well, I suppose we can settle on that compromise." I smiled slightly. "But, in that case." I leaned over and plucked one of the many notes still scattered on the table. "The Shepherds left you notes. I'll read them to you."

I read through them slowly, and we even made a game out of it, where Chrom had to guess who sent what. To my surprise, he got each of them right, though he had taken a while to guess some of the newer members' notes, like Panne and Gaius. Around the time we finished, Robin stumbled in, bandaged but smiling, and happily reported that the intruders were dead, and none of the Shepherds were. After that, we got a steady stream of Shepherds peeking in to reassure themselves that Chrom was awake. I nodded off sometime during Virion's grandiose lecture on 'making fair maidens fret' and his even more dramatic retelling of the battle, and barely noticed Sumia returning to drape the blanket around me again.

I did notice how Chrom held my hand the entire time, though. That just… made me smile.

Notes on Ricken:

Class - Mage; Reclass - Cavalier, Archer

The son of a fallen noble family, who seeks to help his family. One of the youngest, if not the youngest, of the Shepherds

His magic is weaker than Miriel's, but surprising, he's actually physically stronger than her, likely because he admires Chrom and mimics him as much as possible. He might make a good magic-knight, if he can stop growling at anyone who 'looks down on him'.

Animals seem to really like him. It's like a fairy tale story when he goes and forages because the animals will just all wander up.

Chapter Text

Interlude - Sands

Chrom's injury puts a definite pause in our push through Plegia. Not necessarily a bad thing, since it means that Basilio and Flavia's groups will more likely catch up prior to us starting everything, but it does mean we're on an even tighter schedule. Worse, we're burning through supplies more quickly than anticipated. At this rate, we'd barely have enough for a trip back.

There's no way this is going to work. But I dare not say it. Not now, when everyone is so focused on a miracle that just… was not going to happen.

Chrom slept a lot as he healed, because of how bad the injury had been. It didn't help that he tried to push himself, even as he did his best to obey Lissa and Maribelle, meaning he exhausted what little energy reserves his body built up fairly quickly. At least he remained in bed like he was supposed to.

I smoothed the blankets over Chrom, checking him for a fever. It was my morning ritual. Wake up to make breakfast, and then come bring some for Chrom. I tended to just leave it for him, though, since it was rare he was awake for it, and I fussed over him, always worried that he'd overheat or freeze. The desert had sharp temperature differences, after all, and there were many among the Shepherds who complained about it. Chrom didn't, but Chrom felt a large amount of guilt over making us stay in the same place for a few days. I doubted he'd whine about how something was too cold or hot.

The sounds of clinking reminded me that I wasn't alone. Frederick was also here, though that wasn't unusual; like me, he was up before the dawn regularly. Most days, he and I just quietly took care of Chrom before splitting off to our various duties. However, today, as I watched him boil some water and polish some silverware, I couldn't help but break the silence.

"You're like the most perfect butler," I teased. Frederick paused and gave me an almost annoyed look. "Sorry, but seriously."

"I'm a knight," he stated, sounding almost whiny about it. There was even a bit of a sulk. "I just like things neat and tidy."

"Still doesn't change how you're better at it than many butlers." I grinned as he rolled his eyes. "Surely others have commented on it."

"Lady Maribelle has insisted I teach her how to be a steward so that she can teach her own servants." He sounded so thrilled by the prospect. "I am deciding how."

"The same way you train all of us Shepherds, of course." I tucked the topmost blanket more firmly around Chrom, marveling at it as I had the past couple of days. It was simple enough, but it looked beautifully handmade, and lovingly mended, though some patches were faded, hinting it had seen some years. "Be brutal drillmaster."

"You think I should?"

"Hey, if she's insisting that you teach her even though you're busy with other things, she should take it seriously!" I laughed and sat down at the table, checking that Chrom's breakfast was neatly covered. Just some things that would be good no matter when he actually woke up to eat it. "I adore her, but still."

"Tempting." Frederick laughed softly and set the silverware down, checking on the pot. "Well, since you're staying a bit, would you like a cup?"

"I would be delighted." I smiled, and glanced once again at the quilt. "Where did that blanket come from?"

"Which one?"

"The quilt. It's lovely."

"Oh, that's mine." He turned to face me again. "I've had it a long time, and it's very warm. I worried that the cold would make Prince Chrom ill on top of being injured, so I'm lending it to him."

"Really?" Somehow, I wasn't surprised. "Well, like I said, it's lovely. Did you buy it in the market?"

"My mother made it actually." He sounded very proud of the fact. "She was a brilliant seamstress, if I do say so myself. She taught me that and knitting, and many other things."

"Then she had to be skilled. That scarf you made me is amazing." I smiled slightly. "But your mother, huh? Where is she now, if you don't mind me being nosy?" I hoped she hadn't been in Ylisstol. I knew many Shepherds quietly fretted over the family left behind, but no one showed it on their faces. There just wasn't time to worry.

"I don't mind. Unfortunately, though, she passed away a couple years ago. Illness." He smiled sadly, but there was a warmth to it nonetheless. "She was a single mother, but was always so strong. No matter what anyone said to her, she stood tall and held onto her purpose and dignity. She inspires me every day, even now."

"Did you become a knight to get her a better life?" Knights made some very nice paychecks. It wasn't uncommon for commoners to join up for that reason, though most just served in the regular army. It was cheaper. Becoming a knight often had lots of extra expenses.

"No, that's for another reason. There were other ways to get her a 'better' life." His smile fell slightly. "I was saved from a wolf attack when I was much younger, and it was a knight of Ylisse who saved my life. Lady Clara, actually." He went back to fixing the tea. "It stood out to me. 'I will not let death take you'. And she didn't. I wanted to be someone like that. My mother's strength encouraged me to defend others, and I wanted to do it the same way Lady Clara had saved me. As a knight."

"Huh." I wasn't sure how to react, so I just sat there awkwardly and watched him continue to make tea. "How did you afford it? Did you get a sponsorship?"

"Actually, yes." He turned and set a mug of tea in front of me. I hadn't realized he'd been making me one too. "Lady Clara had set it up. Even after she disappeared and everything went… well, everything went to hell, it was kept."

"Oh." I sipped the tea, and coughed as I scalded my tongue. "Ah…"

"Careful, it's hot." He grinned and I stuck my burning tongue out at him. "I didn't mean to ramble. I suppose I'm a bit nostalgic, and… worried."

"Why wouldn't you be?" We were trying to pull off a damn miracle, after all. "Or are you worried for a different reason than I think?"

"Slightly." He shrugged. "The last time Ylisseans were this deep in Plegia… it was during the war. Lady Clara led four different direct offensives, and the fourth was successful only through the help of traitors."

"And it ended with a city on fire, and lots of slaughtering." I knew the story well. Plegia had a public day of mourning for it, and even villages at the border took it seriously. "Though, didn't a lot of Ylisseans die that day too?"

"Yes. Lady Clara was the sole survivor of the final offensive Ylisse launched. Then she came home, and disappeared, leaving questions in her wake. That's why I'm worried. I'm worried we'll have similar prices." He shook his head. "This is not a proper topic, though. All the gloom will make us all sick." He smiled, but I noticed it was tight. He was deathly worried. "How about some stories about my lord when he was a child?"

"Well, I won't say no." I grinned, looking forward to it already. I hoped my own cheer would ease his concerns. "I'm all ears~!"

After a delightful early morning of tea and stories with Frederick, I went through my typical duties of making sure there were no arguments and that everyone was getting along reasonably well. I also checked to make sure no one was suffering from heatstroke or heat exhaustion and did a check of our inventory. Normally after that, I'd check on Robin, but this time, I got ambushed by Maribelle and whisked off for a 'morning tea party' with her, Sumia, Cordelia, and Virion. I'd thought Virion had been joking about having a tea party.

"Oh, so Lissa is with Captain Chrom," Sumia murmured, sipping her tea. It was a good tea, a citrus blend that reminded me of the tea Emmeryn had served me before. "That makes sense. He's recovering well, right?"

"He is, yes," Maribelle answered. Her voice was strangely cool, or so I thought. "Though he seems insistent on making us fret ourselves grey in the process."

"Tut, tut, it seems I need to give another lecture to our fearless leader," Virion sighed, shaking his head. "It isn't proper to make beautiful ladies fret."

"I am not certain you should be giving lectures in propriety."

"Once again, my lady's sharp tongue cuts me to the quick!"

"If only you stayed that way."

"Alack, alay! I fear I shall waste away from such barbs!"

"Why was I invited?" I muttered, focusing on my tea. I felt horrible out of place, and tried not to squirm in my seat. "I had things to do…"

"So did I," Cordelia mumbled. She and I were seated side-by-side, and shot me a sympathetic smile. She looked as awkward as I felt. "There were some weapons that needed repairs."

"The lances, right? I remember thinking that some of them looked off."

"Mostly the lances, yes, but we're down a few axes."

"Vaike had fun again, it seems." I sighed, and then glanced at the other three to make sure they hadn't noticed. Thankfully, they were too busy bantering to bother with us. "At least he hasn't lost any yet." I gave her a curious look. "How did you know the axes were off, though?"

"Oh, I practiced with them a bit. Nothing fancy." She shrugged. "We need to replenish our medical supplies, though."

"Yes, we're low on medicine, but we don't have anywhere to really get any."

"And Ricken in low on tomes."

"Is he?" I gave her a curious look. "You know this because…?"

"Oh, I keep track." She shrugged. "I like staying on top of things, so I check on everyone's equipment."

"Or you don't trust them to take care of it on their own." I smiled slightly as her expression blanked. "Or you're purposely overworking yourself so that you can sleep without dreaming of the screams following your back." I laughed as she continued staring. "You should be careful. I imagine there are many in the group who won't take your helpfulness as anything but meddling."

"I'll… keep that in mind." She suddenly laughed softly, giving me a look that was both bitter and respectful, pained and resigned. "No wonder he likes you."

"Huh?" Of course, I was just confused. "What are you talking about?"

"Nothing important." She shook her head, and pointedly sipped her tea. "I don't know why I was invited. Maribelle and I argue often."

"Revenge for something?"

"That could be it, but then why did she invite you?"

"I've no clue. I kind of thought it was Virion's idea." I sighed, and took a sip of my own tea. "If I have to be resting, I'd rather be talking books or poetry."

"Oh, right, Sumia was telling me that you were her book buddy." Cordelia smiled warmly. "What poems do you like? I have a few favorites myself."

"I actually brought them, since they're small. I'll lend them to you."

"That would be wonderful!"

"Oh, you two are dreadful," Maribelle suddenly said. She frowned at Cordelia and me, while Sumia giggled and Virion looked amused. "I've been trying to get your attention."

"I'm sorry, Maribelle," I replied, feeling a little guilty. "We were just bonding over feeling a bit out of place."

"I can understand that, but adaptability is an important trait for a lady." She sighed, shaking her head. "And you, my dear, will need to adapt quickly. You'll find yourself hosting parties like this before long, I think, and the Ylissean court is not so forgiving."

It took me a second to realize what she was implying, and even then, I only figured it out because both Sumia and Cordelia winced. When I did, I… couldn't react. I just couldn't. It just felt… horribly awkward. I knew why she had said that. All of us did. But that just made it all the worse. Sumia worked on keeping her smile, and Cordelia's face had smoothed out to blank stoicism. I tried to pretend I didn't notice any of it, while my heart keened. Part of me was happy, but everything was so nebulous. It was clear everyone had expectations. But did Chrom really feel the same as I did? If he did, would he and I marry? Chrom had to think of his country as well himself. I wouldn't be a good queen. I could barely govern myself. How could I govern a country? I didn't know the first thing about courtly graces either. I knew politics only from afar, as a mercenary who had listened to the gossip. I… couldn't be queen. I…

But clearly some sort of reply was expected, as the awkward silence stretched longer and longer. I felt like I was about to throw up or something, which only made me realize all the more that I wouldn't be a suitable queen. If I froze up like this, in a gathering of friends, how could I…?

"Well, well, I just noticed something." Virion's light voice broke the silence, and he winked when I shot him a grateful look. "I appear to be the only male at this lovely little gathering," he declared. "However did I get so lucky?"

"I suppose it means we consider you one of the girls," I teased, unable to help it. The tension in the air eased slowly. "Hope you don't mind."

"Now, whyever should I mind being bosom buddies with such marvelous people?" He laughed, and gradually, the rest of us joined in. "But I do believe I promised you a story of how I got lost in my own castle, Kestrel." He had promised no such thing, but it was such an easy change in subject that I nodded anyway. "Well, then… which incident was the most humorous?"

"There was more than one?"

"It's a very big castle, you must understand." He grinned and launched into a story about how he managed to lock himself in his own dungeons on accident. I was half certain it was a lie, but it was entertaining, and thanks to it, the tea party continued without incident or awkwardness. Far better than feared, at least.

After the tea party, I helped Maribelle clean up as an 'apology' for not paying attention. When I was done with that, I decided to take an afternoon bath, wanting to get the sweat off of me. However, somehow, I must've gotten lost or confused as I ended up walking in on Gaius just as he was about to take off his underwear. Lovely way to have a proper first meeting.

"Sorry, I must've read the sign wrong," I explained, barely resisting the urge to sigh. Today just wasn't going to be my day. "I'll be leaving now."

"Nah, it's no worries," Gaius answered. He even grinned. "Not like it became awkward or anything, and not like you threw things at me."

"Why would I do that? It's my fault that I walked in." I frowned, not liking the implication. I'd need to have a talk with the girls. "Well, whatever. I'll leave you to your bath."

"Yeah." He paused suddenly, and his grin faded. "Er… I do want to mention that I'm normally in much better shape. Just with everything, I've been stress eating." He looked strangely insistent on that. "Usually I'm a nice piece of eye candy, belly of a washboard, glutes like a-"

"You are quite handsome as you are Gaius, though if you are worried, I am sure we can arrange some extra training sessions." I sighed, shaking my head. My eyes, however, fell on the tattoo on his lower arm. "That, however, does catch my eye." I pointed to it, and he stiffened instantly. "Relax. I know what it is, and I really couldn't care less. I am… was… a mercenary. I probably did just as bad of stuff and got paid for it."

"Yeah, well…" He shrugged, eyes narrowing. "You mind not saying anything? I'll pay you."

"You don't have to pay me. I told you that I couldn't care less. That also means I don't care enough to tell anyone."

"Or care enough to be silent." He frowned. "If you're looking for ransom, I'll admit I don't have much money, but I do have a particular set of honeycakes-"

"I. Will. Not. Tell. Anyone." I said the words slowly and firmly. "I'll keep your blasted secret. I just didn't want you panicking over whether or not I saw it. You're not the only one with a dark past. Part of mine got revealed yesterday to everyone."

"Oh, yeah, those Grimleal fellows." His frown deepened, but he sighed. "We'll drop it for now." He paused and then laughed. "Well, this was a fine conversation to have while wearing my smallclothes!"

"Meh, I've a twin brother, and spent time fighting alongside people and in infirmaries. I've talked to men wearing less."

"Bet you wouldn't be so nonchalant if you saw Blue in his smallclothes~"

"Blue?" I gave him a confused look before rolling my eyes. "That is the most unimaginative nickname for Chrom." Of course, it wasn't as if I could talk, considering how 'creative' mine had been, but he hadn't been around for that, so he couldn't comment on me being hypocritical. "Whatever. Have fun." I turned around and walked out of the tent, trying to hide my blush at the mental image of Chrom in his underwear. It didn't help that I got lots of time to see him shirtless thanks to his injury. "Ugh… thanks, Gaius…" I grumbled, ducking my head. That was when I noticed something. The sign for the tent… clearly said 'Lady's Baths'. "Uh… Gaius?" I picked up the sign and batted at the tent flap to warn him I was still there. "Sign says this is the bath for the girls."

"Wait, what?" Gaius poked his head out and frowned when I showed him. "That's not the sign I saw when I walked in. I even had Frederick show me where the men's baths were, just to make sure I didn't misread anything."

"Someone switched the signs?" That was just… bizarre. "Clearly, someone has had too much time on their hands."

"Time for an investigation." He darted back inside, and the sound of clothes rustling hinted he was getting dressed quickly. "I have to clear my good name!" He popped out two seconds later, fully clothed. "Ugh… clothes feel weird."

"Why do they feel weird?" I asked, setting the sign down before picking a direction at random to walk in. "Everything alright?"

"Just Cordelia going on a laundry kick." He made a face. "Bah, she gets all up in everyone's business to run away from taking care of herself."

"I think so too. It worries me." It worried me all the more because she was Sumia's best friend. I should make a point to get her to relax, and not at a tea party. Though I wasn't sure if she'd want to be around me. "When we next get a break, I should encourage her to seek out a therapist or something. The church does things like that, right?"

"Supposedly. Most I've met only do bribes, but Blue seems to be lucky when it comes to attracting people to his cause. Maybe we'll get a genuine one." He reached into his pocket and grimaced suddenly. "Ugh… it's too hot… my candy is melting…"

"It'll freeze up again when night falls." I looked around the camp, noticing that Sully and Vaike were sparring again, despite the fact that this was probably the hottest part of the day, or close to it. "It gets cold."

"But that'll mess up the flavor!"

"Sugar is sugar to me." But, then again, I had an idea of why he was obsessed with sweets. They were expensive. Unless you were wealthy, or a skilled thief, you'd likely only manage to snag some during a festival. "Sorry."

"We need to have a proper sweet tasting so that you can appreciate the differences between them all."

"Perhaps we can do something more practical, like how to be sneaky." I was fast, but my stealthing abilities were average at best. "I went the mercenary route instead of the thief route when funds ran low."

"Knowing the wonders of sugar is important." His eyes sharpened slightly and he pointed to where I could see Frederick scolding Lissa. The 'Men's Baths' sign was in his hands, and Lissa looked very contrite. "Well, what's that over here?"

"I think we found our prankster." I sighed heavily, thinking of how that really should've been my first guess. I'd forgotten, since I'd told her to never pull a prank on me, but Robin was a favored victim. "Shall we join in with the lecture or just leave it?"

"Leave it." He laughed, clearly amused now by all of it. "We were just wondering, right? How about you and I go get food and leave them be?"

"Yeah, sure, that's good." I shrugged, and turned away, heading for the mess tent. "I hope no one has guzzled the water again. I don't want to hunt down more."

"Here's hoping, Falcon. Here's hoping."

I chose not to comment on the nickname, and instead, asked him if he'd traveled. He responded by telling me about different cities in Ylisse, with delightful stories about the people, the sweets they ate, and what sort of things they gossiped about. It ended up being a delightful lunch, actually.

Late that afternoon, Chrom was cleared to actually get up and walk around. Robin and I volunteered to be his crutches, and so, we helped Chrom slowly patrol the edges of the camp. He tired frequently, no thanks to the heat, but he stubbornly kept insisting on continuing, so Robin and I helped him walk.

"Chrom, I swear, if you strain yourself, I'll hurt you," Robin grumbled. He took most of Chrom's weight as Chrom staggered again. "Seriously. As a tactician, I'll hurt you."

"Go on; keep scolding," Chrom joked, grinning weakly. His eyes danced, though. "It's preferable to the constant apologies."

"I'll apologize for kicking your ass if you overdo it." Robin sighed and gave me a beseeching look. "Make him behave."

"And how do you propose I do that, master tactician?" I retorted. I kept a step back, mostly because I knew how much Robin wanted to help Chrom. He still felt horrible guilt over it all. "Come up with a strategy."

"Why must my twin be so cruel to me?" Robin instantly complained, groaning. Chrom only snickered. "Is it a sister thing? Is it a younger sister thing? Help me out here, Chrom."

"Why are you asking me?" Chrom laughed. His bright smile did wonders to soothe both Robin and me. He really was recovering. "I don't know!"

"You have sisters!"

"Maybe it's a twin thing!"

"Boys, calm down," I chided, shaking my head. I had to fight to keep the grin off my face. "You…" I trailed off as I noticed something odd. Not far away, there was a woman dragging something towards our camp. Her clothes, however, marked her as Plegian. "Who's that?" I pointed to the woman when Robin and Chrom gave me weird looks. "Her. I don't recognize her."

"...Oh, great, did something actually happen?" Robin sighed. He shifted, slinging Chrom's arm over his shoulder. "Come on. Unfortunately, we do need to look into that."

Slowly and cautiously, the three of us made our way towards the girl. She seemed to notice us and stopped, watching us closely. But as we got closer, I noticed she was smiling, and it… it was actually a genuine smile, with dimples and shining eyes.

"Hi, my name is Melaina," she introduced, bowing to us. She gestured to her burden, which was a blanket, and let one corner fall so that we could see what was inside. "The folks in my village thought you guys might be running low on medicine since you were holed up here for a while. So, here, have some!"

"Are you serious?" I asked, startled. She was right in that we were low, and when I crouched down to look at the medicines, I realized that unless they were very clever poisons, they were actual medicine. I recognized most of them. "This is quite the gift."

"Not really. Our village specializes in medicine making." She shrugged, still smiling. Chrom leaned away from Robin to stand on his own, and Robin dropped a hand to his pocket, where he had his tome. "This is just some extras."

"Still, though, it is appreciated." I glanced up at her, trying to figure out if she was tricking us. But I didn't find anything but simple honesty. "It's very appreciated, actually."

"I'm glad." She giggled. "You guys did a good job with the hiding, but some of our herb gatherers have to come out this far, and noticed you."

"Damn, I had thought we were far enough away from villages," Chrom murmured. He frowned a bit, glancing at his arm. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt, something thrown on to cover the bandages, and his Brand was easy for anyone to see. "...Forgive me, but you have to know who I am." His voice remained even, though. "I'm not… well, I'm not taking steps to hide it."

"Nope, you're not," she agreed. "You are Crown Prince Chrom of Ylisse, heir to Exalt Emmeryn, only son of Exalt Adair, and the current wielder of the Falchion." She rattled it off with ease, and with each word, her cheer faded to become stone-cold serious. "I take it these are your Shepherds. We've heard of you."

"Then why?" He shook his head. "Not to sound ungrateful. I'm just… very confused." He paused, eyes widening. "Wait, is it a… custom thing? Culture? I… sorry, I'm just not sure why, and I'd like to know."

"..." Her face softened with a smile before she laughed. "Well, you're more adorable than I anticipated." She laughed a little more before letting the sound die, but the smile remained. "Prince Chrom, I remember the war. King Gangrel can whip people into a frenzy over the past, but my wounds have already scarred." She pointed to the scar over her eye for emphasis. "There are Plegians who long for war and revenge, but there are many, like myself, who are tired of watching good people die for someone's stupid ideals. King Gangrel pursues an ideal of revenge. I wish someone would remind him that we live in a world of reality, not ideals."

"That doesn't mean going out of your way to help us, though. You can simply…"

"Watch you go by? Yes, I could. I imagine many have done the same. Based on how you're acting here, I can see that you move quickly and quietly, doing your best to avoid a conflict." She shrugged again. "Far different than the last time an army invaded. You're trying to be efficient. In and out, minimal casualties. You just want to save your Exalt, your sister, and you're careful to not bring harm to others."

"I… try." Chrom fell silent for a bit. "So, why do you come to help us directly? Forgive me for being stubborn. If you would rather not answer, I don't mind."

"Curiosity killed the cat."

"Satisfaction brought it back."

"And curiosity killed off the rest of its nine lives."

"Well, thank goodness I'm not a cat." Chrom flashed a grin before pointing to Robin and me. I continued peering at the medicines; Robin watched over everything calmly, one hand still on his tome. "These two would also kill me if I died."

"Well, aren't you lucky?" She laughed again, before nodding. "Well, the answer is simple. I, and my village, chose to help you directly because of the Holy Swordsman."

"The Holy…" Chrom's eyes widened. "Clara?"

"Yes, her. She wanders around, sometimes, and takes care of bandits for us." She spoke lightly, and each word made Chrom's eyes widen further. I couldn't blame him; it didn't escape me that she used present tense to refer to her. "Other villages too. Our knight in tarnished armor, who does more for us than our king in his revenge." She smiled wryly. "Went a long way to remind us that there was more to the previous war than any of us would ever admit. The Holy Swordsman, the Demon of Blades, the Reaper of War…" Chrom flinched at each title, and my jaw dropped as I realized they all referred to the same woman. I'd always assumed they were three different people. "She tended to the children so gently when they were lost in the sands. She cut down the bandits without mercy, and held their victims as they sobbed. We like her. We respect her. And, because of her, we remember that Ylisse is filled with people too, just like Plegia. You seem like her, in how careful you are. So, we don't mind helping. King Gangrel's war is only going to get a lot of us killed, after all."

"...Thank you…" Chrom whispered the words, and, when he smiled, he looked ready to cry. "I appreciate it."

"Just continue being you, Prince Chrom, and when this war ends, remember that there are people here too." She laughed and turned, waving over her shoulder. "I'd better return, though. I've my own chores to finish."

"Safe travels to you." Chrom hesitated and then looked to Robin. "We were attacked twice yesterday. Can you…?"

"If she does not mind," Robin replied. He smiled when Melaina gave us a curious look. "We were attacked by Grimleal. While you made it here safely, we're worried. Would you mind an escort?"

"...Sure, why not?" she replied after a moment. She laughed again, smiling. "It's not far, but it is out of sight."

"Then let us go. I'm sure one of our fliers will follow, but I promise it's just them being paranoid." Robin grinned and walked over to her, easily falling in step as she continued on. "Can you tell me a bit more about Plegia, though? I try to read, but there's only so much you can learn in books…" Robin's happy questions, and Melaina's easy answers slowly disappeared in the distance. Chrom and I watched them leave, and watched Cordelia, who must've been on an aerial patrol, subtly head after them, in silence. The whole talk was… odd. Odd and refreshing. It was nice to see someone who didn't want to kill us, even if it was unexpected.

"...Clara's alive," Chrom whispered after a moment. He laughed, and it sounded both relieved and hollow. "I don't know what to feel about that." The gentle murmuring of the camp behind us hinted that everyone was going back to their tasks. "I'm glad, but I also wonder why she didn't come back. I'm happy, but I also wonder why she's not saving Emm right now."

"Well, I can't answer the first, but perhaps she's not near for the second," I pointed out. I shrugged when he looked at me. "But, hey, she's alive, and she's helping people. She's showing Plegians that there is some good in Ylisse still. In her own way, it seems like she was helping Emmeryn."

"True." He sighed, looking up at the cloudless sky. "...After we save Emm…" He trailed off, clearly thinking of what to say. "After that, I have something I'd like to tell you."

"You do?" I gave him a confused look, even though he wasn't looking at me. "What is it? Why not tell me now?"

"Well, I'd like to focus on saving my sister." He glanced over his shoulder to smile warmly at me. "And, well, I'd like to also talk to her about it. Advice. Frederick gave me some, but I want to hear her words too."

"Okay?" I felt a little breathless, my pulse thundering in my chest. "That seems… odd to me, but I'll wait. If you promise to remain a good patient, and go rest."

"Yes, yes." He laughed, smile widening. "I can take the hint. I'll head back to my tent."

"Very good." I glanced at the medicines, and made a split-second decision. "I'll go tell Maribelle about the medicine. If you're not back at your tent by the time I'm done, then you'll get a scolding."

"A fate worse than death."

"From Frederick."

"A really worse fate than death." He made a face and I laughed. "Fine, fine. I'm going; I'm going."

"Good." On impulse, I leaned up and kissed his cheek. "For being polite." And then I ran off, barely avoiding tripping over my own feet, worried about his reaction even as my face heated up.

I shouldn't have done that. I really shouldn't have done that. Ah, the next few days were going to be so, so awkward…!

After dinner, I invited Cordelia to my tent to read through some poetry. I invited Sumia too, but she had first watch, so she declined. Robin ended up crashing on some of my pillows, curled up asleep, as Cordelia and I flipped through poems, dramatically reading some aloud. It became a game over who would burst into giggles first, and it ended in a tie. Both of us couldn't keep a straight face for long.

"Poems are infinitely funnier when you're reading them melodramatically," Cordelia managed through her laughter. Tears actually gathered in the corners of her eyes. "Oh, goodness…"

"It doesn't help that we're purposely mispronouncing some of the words to make them rhyme," I pointed out. My stomach hurt from how much I'd been laughing, and I had to check on Robin to make sure we hadn't woken him up. "But it's a good poem."

"It is. I love it." Her laughter faded to giggles, and then, amusingly enough, hiccups. "Oh no!"

"Hold your breath!" I snickered, unable to help it. Both of us were red in the face, and hers turned redder from embarrassment as she held her breath to try and cure her hiccups. It took a few tries before it worked. "There we go!"

"Ah…" She sighed mournfully, but smiled. "I haven't laughed like that in a while. Everything has been…"

"Hell. War is worse than hell." I shrugged and flopped back on my pillows. "I figured you could use a night off."

"I did. Thank you." She smiled warmly, but a bit awkwardly, like she wasn't used to smiling. "I appreciate it."

"It's fine. Besides, I'm having fun too." I grinned at her, but it faltered when I noticed she was looking at me closely. "Something up?"

"No, it's nothing." She shook her head. "Just, again, I was thinking it was no wonder he likes you."

"You said that before." But this time, I had a feeling of who the 'he' was. My face heated up at the implication, and my heart ached at the pain I saw in her eyes. "...Well, since you brought the topic up, mind if I ask a question? You don't have to answer if you don't want."

"Certainly." She picked up another pillow and tucked it against her chest. "What is it?"

"Why did you 'give up'? Sumia told me that you had."

"She would. She had encouraged me to try for it, even though she loves him too." Cordelia sighed, and hid half her face in the pillow, muffling her voice. "Well, part of it is simple. We don't live in a fairy tale. The girl from the slums doesn't magically marry the prince charming just because she likes him."


"Yeah, I'm from the slums of Ylisstol, poor as Vaike. Actually poorer, I was an orphan." She hid a little more behind the pillow. "Every day, I had to struggle to survive. I lived for the days Exalt Emmeryn would step out to greet us, often with Prince Chrom at her side. They were all… sparkling and bright, and whenever they passed by, it felt like the sun had finally come in. But then they'd disappear, and I was back to doing what I had to. I'm a poor runner, sadly, so I was never good at stealing. I worked on strengthening my body, though, thinking that I could become a mercenary to escape. I did… a lot of bad things…" She lifted her head slightly, though, and smiled. "One day, though, this strange little girl wandered into the slums, the pretty daughter of a Viscount. Some of the other kids tried to beat her up and steal from her, but I intervened. I grabbed a broken broom pole and whacked them with it, chasing them away, before leading the girl back to the 'proper' part of town."

"That was Sumia, wasn't it?" I smiled, easily imagining the encounter. "Sounds like her."

"It was. She thanked me profusely, and insisted on dragging me to her parents. I was so embarrassed, since I was covered in filth, but she took my hand without disgust, and her parents smiled so warmly at me. Captain Phila was with them at the time, discussing some sort of security thing, and when Sumia told everyone about how I'd saved her, she offered me sponsorship into the pegasus knights. After a moment of staring at her like an idiot, I took the offer, and so, made it out of the slums."

"I see." My smile warmed as she glanced at me hesitantly. "Sounds cool. I thought you had to do a test to get sponsorship."

"Normally, yes, but Captain Phila is high enough ranked to overrule that, and she said she thought I had the potential. And…" She smiled slightly. "She said I reminded her of her sister, so she was sure I'd do great." She paused awkwardly. "Though she was also quick to add that she'd hoped I would have a happier fate."

"What happened?"

"She died during the war. Phila became a pegasus knight in her memory." Cordelia laughed. "Wow, all of that rambling just to explain that I gave up because I wouldn't be accepted. Of course, me giving up so easily was probably a sign that my feelings weren't all that strong to begin with, no matter how much they linger. But I think they linger because of the other reason."

"What's the other reason?"

"I love the idea of Prince Chrom more than I love him, I think." She straightened up, though she still hugged the pillow to her chest. "I love the idea of a Prince Charming, a prince who goes out and does stuff. I love the light he brings to the world. But I know next to nothing about him as a person. I spent all my time studying and working hard, hoping to live up to expectations. My only friend was Sumia, who would tell me about him, and I would listen to the gossips, who would tell me how he was viewed. But I don't know him. I just know the image I've built up in my head. That's… well, I won't say it's not a 'real' love, but it's not one to pursue a relationship with."

"...That's way more mature than I was expecting." I grinned as she actually squeaked and pouted. "Sorry, but it was."

"I've had a lot of time to myself to think. It means I come up with stupidly complex answers to simple things." She sounded so huffy, and continued to pout. "Regardless, though, that's why. And no telling anyone. I've only recently pieced it all together and need to tell Sumia."

"Yeah, sure, no worries." I giggled, making her pout further, but my cheer faded as I thought about her first reason. "I imagine the courts wouldn't accept someone like me either…"

"Courts might not. But the Shepherds will, and the Shepherds is filled with a lot of influential people." She smiled encouragingly at me, even though her eyes were pained. "You'll have to fight for it. But you… I think you can do it. Given everything I've heard about you, from everyone, I think you'd make a good queen."

I was saved from answering by a loud gasp, followed by Robin shooting up, panting heavily with wide eyes. I lunged over to his side, hugging him tightly, while Cordelia peered worriedly at us both. Robin leaned into me, trembling as he clutched my arm. I kissed the top of his head, and rocked him slowly, doing my best to radiate comfort while he dragged himself out the last bits of whatever nightmare he'd had.

After a long moment, he took a shuddering breath and pulled out of my hug, looking at me seriously. "Kestrel, are you certain I don't have the ability to see the future?" he asked me, desperately. His hand clenched into a fist. "Absolutely?"

"Yes, you don't have it," I replied. I focused on keeping absolutely calm. "I'm sure."

"And a…" He visibly groped for words. "An… an ability to see things happening in present times, but not…?"

"Scrying?" I gave him a weird look when he nodded. "No. You only have your Insight. Why ask?"

"...Just a bad dream." Robin sighed and flopped back on the pillows. "Just a bad dream."

"I know a good tea for that," Cordelia stated, already leaping to her feet. "Hold on. I'll get some made for you." She was out of the tent without even waiting for an answer.

So, instead, I scooted closer to Robin and ran my hands through his hair. "You're just nervous," I whispered. I hoped it soothed him. "There's a lot riding on you."

"I know," he mumbled. He curled more into himself. "I won't fail, though. I can't. I'll save Emmeryn for Chrom. I'll keep us all safe. I can't fail. I won't fail."

"Robin…" I didn't know what to say. So, I just kept running my hands through his hair. "I love you."

"I love you too." He breathed in deeply and let it out slowly, relaxing with the exhale. "That tea sounds nice, though."

"Cordelia will be back before long. Make sure to thank her."

"I will." He closed his eyes. "Thank you, too, sister. For staying with me, even though everything is all messed up."

"You can't get rid of me if you tried." I smiled slightly. "Why not just stay over in my tent tonight? You're already comfy."

"Okay." He sighed. "Sounds good." We stayed like that until Cordelia returned with three mugs of tea. Then we worked on having a polite, but happy, conversation until the tea was gone and we all went to bed. But as I tried to go to sleep, a dark cloud hung over me, worries of what was to come.

Emmeryn's fate would be decided soon. And I was very scared of what destiny had planned for her.

Notes on Panne:

Class - ; Reclass - Thief, Wyvern Rider

One of the few survivors of the Taguel after decades of genocide, noble yet aloof

An excellent frontline fighter, with a strength, agility, and senses that surpass humans. However, her Beaststone is capable of breaking if overused, and are rare, so she has to be careful to time it well. Surprisingly reckless.

Because she is Taguel, and hasn't been around humans much, she is ignorant to human customs, resulting in amusing instances. Poor Stahl almost fainted from embarrassment when she licked his face to clean off a dangerous-to-human fruit.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9) Emmeryn

Chrom’s injury finally heals, and we make our way towards our destination: Castle Plegia, where Emmeryn is said to be. Flavia and Basilio catch up with us along the way, and they spend a lot of time with Chrom and Robin, focusing on the crazy plan to save Emmeryn, and the others captured at Ylisstol.

I focus on helping Frederick keep the army running smoothly. There wasn’t really much else I could do, at this point.

“So, apparently, you four haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday.” I gave Chrom, Robin, Flavia, and Basilio my most unamused look as I stepped into the ‘War Council Tent’ where all four of them blinked at me slowly. “You didn’t even sleep, did you?” I scolded, purposely setting the tray of food on their map in the center of the table they were all learning over. “And… gods above, you guys haven’t cleaned in here either!” The entire tent was filled with discarded papers, pens, and waterskins. “Honestly, everyone… I fail to see how any plan you make will work if the four of you are too damned tired and hungry to do anything.”

“Oh, we’re fine, little miss,” Basilio replied, waving off my lecture. I fixed him with my sternest stare, and had the pleasure of watching him squirm in his seat. “We… uh… know our limits?”

“You and Flavia might, Basilio, thanks to your extensive experience, but I can guarantee you that Chrom, who tried to practice drills while he still had a hole in his chest, and Robin, who only really has the experience of a few months thanks to amnesia, do not.” I frowned, and turned my stare to the two of them. They squirmed as well. “Speaking of which. Chrom, you missed your checkup with Lissa, and she’s most vexed with both you and Robin. Expect pranks.”

“...War and Death, any reason we don’t just send her at Gangrel?” Basilio slumped in his chair, grumbling. “One minute is all she’d need.”

“Unfortunately, Gangrel will likely gut me before that minute, so you best continue with whatever plan you have.” I moved the bowls of soup closer to the four of them, as well as spoons, and poured them some mugs of mint tea. “I’m certain it runs off of audacity and ‘no one is stupid enough to do this’, whatever it is.”

“You know your brother well,” Flavia laughed. She gave me a thankful smile and tucked into her soup with a gusto. “Oh, this is a green soup, isn’t it? Feroxi?”

“It is,” I confirmed, smiling slightly. “We had an excess in spinach that was about to go bad, as well as leeks, so I made some. I didn’t have any nutmeg, though.”

“You made this?” Flavia’s eyes sparkled before they narrowed on Chrom. “This isn’t fair. One sibling is the best damn tactician I’ve ever seen, and the other cooks amazing Feroxi soups! Share, damn it!”

“You’re getting some now,” Chrom cheekily pointed out with a giant grin. Flavia simply groaned. “Though, this soup really is good, Kestrel.”

“It’s super delicious,” Robin added. He frowned when I gave him a weird look. “Did I… not compliment you on your food before losing my memories?” His frown deepened when I shook my head. “I guess I was used to the amazingness.”

“That’s right! You used to get this all the time!” Basilio laughed. He also dug in, and I smiled, gladdened that they liked it. I’d been a bit worried, since it had been a while since I’d made this soup, and Flavia and Basilio were Feroxi. “Beautiful lady making amazing food for you always! You’ve a devil’s luck there!”

“...You remember she’s my twin sister, right?” Robin’s eyes narrowed. “Right?”

“Doesn’t mean you’re not lucky. Just, you know, not as lucky as, say, Chrom here!” Basilio laughed again, and Chrom actually choked on his soup. Robin thumped him on the back to help clear the resulting cough. “What do you think, Flavia?”

“I think Chrom needs to make sure I don’t steal them away,” Flavia instantly retorted. She sipped her tea, and I was startled to see she’d already devoured all her soup! “I’d love a good tactician, and I’m always up for adding a talented female warrior to my army. Especially a former mercenary, like myself.”

“Oh, brother, are you planning on adopting her?”

“Maybe. She’s adorable. Both of them are.” Flavia’s eyes sparkled again. “Hmm…”

“Uh oh.” Basilio gave us a deadly serious look. “Kestrel, Robin, hide.”

“Khan Flavia, no matter what you scheme, my sister and I have no intentions of leaving Chrom and Ylisse, especially given these trying times,” Robin firmly declared. He smiled warmly, and I noted with amusement how Chrom blushed a bright red. “Speaking of which…”

“Don’t talk tactics over your food,” I scolded, gently bopping him on the head. He made a face anyway. “You’ll give yourself indigestion.”

“But…” He sighed as I leveled a stern look on him again. “Can we at least get Basilio’s information? He got a spy report?”

“Oh, fine.” I rolled my eyes, and refilled Flavia’s tea. “Basilio?”

“It’s not much,” Basilio instantly warned. He ate a little more of his soup before continuing. “Mostly, it’s a confirmation of what we know. Exalt Emmeryn will be executed tomorrow, on the marrow.”

“The marrow?” Chrom repeated with a frown. He sipped his own tea, his bowl empty. “The hell does that mean?”

“Not sure. We’ll find out tomorrow.”

“They mean that she’ll be executed on Grima’s bones,” I answered, feeling unsettled. I didn’t like being so close to Grima’s corpse. “It’ll make more sense when you see them, but it means she’ll be executed on Grima’s bones. Based on location, I’d guess the ribs.” I squirmed as they continued staring at me. “Listen to your history stories. Grima was huge, okay?”

“Surely not that big, right?” Robin asked. His jaw dropped when I nodded. “He was?” I nodded again. “Oh, holy shit, how the hell did they kill him in the past?”

“Well, things tend to die when you stab them enough times, no matter how big they are.” I made myself smile. “But really, the new information is that you have a location, so to speak.”

“True,” Chrom confirmed. He grinned at Robin. “So far, you’ve been perfectly correct, Robin.”

“Yes, but tomorrow will be the true test,” Robin replied softly. He nursed his own mint tea. All of them were done eating. “We can’t be careless…”

“Oh, stop with the false modesty,” Flavia complained. She rolled her eyes, but smiled. “Chin up. Your thinking got us this far. Your plan is risky, but not overly so, considering what we’re accomplishing. The danger is great, but the prize is well worth it.”

“She’s right, Robin,” Chrom added. He slung an arm around Robin’s shoulders. “We’ll get through this, and we’ll be trading stories with Emm by this time tomorrow. Or, well, getting lectured for recklessness. I’m sure she’s got a bunch to yell at us for.”

“Speaking of things to yell at you for…” I began, using that as a lead-in. “Lissa? Robin, you may go with him.” I paused, thinking rapidly. “Actually, no, Flavia, go with both of them. I don’t trust either of them right now.”

Chrom and Robin tried to complain, but Flavia’s laughter drowned them out as she escorted them to the healers. I set about cleaning up the plates, balancing them on the tray, and Basilio, surprisingly, helped me with it. But as he did, I noticed the serious look on his face, and realized he still had more to say.

“I’ve word from Olivia,” he whispered to me. He didn’t look up from cleaning at all. “Thanks to her connections with various traveling troupes, she’s secured us a bunch of carriages and will wait for us in the ravines near Midmire.”

“...An escape route,” I summarized. I set the last of the mugs on the tray and looked at him. “You don’t think this will work.”

“Oh, no, I think it will. I also hope it will. But you don’t get to be my age in Ferox without coming up with backup plans. I’ve a bad feeling Robin hasn’t learned that part yet.” He laughed, but it sounded hollow compared to his normal ones. “It’s one thing to stand your ground when it’s just your life on the line. If that was the case, I wouldn’t bother. But we’ve got a lot of people depending on us. I make the plans.”

“Right…” I made myself smile. “Thank you, Basilio. You’ll forgive me for hoping we won’t need it, right?”

“Of course. I’m hoping the same, and so is Olivia.” He grinned, and this time, his laugh sounded normal. “The soup was fantastic.”

“I’m glad.” I just hoped it wouldn’t be everyone’s last meal. “I’ll get these back to the kitchens.”

Tomorrow, the operation’s success or failure was decided. I didn’t much like this calm before the storm.

“There are a lot of people here to see Exalt Emmeryn die,” Gaius mumbled. He and I were hiding in the crowd, hoods of our cloaks up, waiting for the signal from Robin to begin the operation. “Holy shit, there are a lot of people. Pickpockets must be making a killing today.”

“Provided that they’re not watching the ‘show’ themselves,” I muttered. I winced as someone jostled me, and I looked up, trying to see what I could above people’s heads. From here, I saw a stage that Gangrel likely was going to stand on, and, if I looked much higher, I could see Emmeryn. She was on the highest rib of Grima, knelt with her hands clasped together, all alone. It was hard to see her expression or anything from here. “They might let people go.”

“Gods, this is messed up. What’s with these dragon bones again?”

“Grima.” I felt almost lightheaded, being so close. “The bones are literally Grima’s body.”

“...How freaking huge was this thing?”

“Clearly, large enough that a human can stand on one of its ribs comfortably.” I laughed hollowly. “They say that the First Exalt was smaller than one of its eyes, you know.”

“One of its eyes?”

“It’s called the damned Fell Dragon. What’s creepier than multiple eyes?” There was a commotion starting from the front, and I tensed. “Gangrel’s here.”

“Well, Falcon, we’d better get ready.” He tensed too, shaking slightly. So much of this required good timing. If the timing was off, even a little… “Oh, hell, he’s a damn clown, isn’t he?”

“Don’t take it for stupidity. That’s what got Emmeryn in this mess.”


“Good people of Plegia!” Gangrel boomed as he stepped out on the stage, waving his arms to make sure he was seen. The crowd cheered his arrival and then quieted instantly, shifting eagerly. “Welcome! Welcome, one and all, to this delightful occasion!” He gestured grandly to where Emmeryn knelt, and the crowd hissed in seething hatred. “Yes, I know. Look upon her, the witch-queen of Ylisse! Successor to her murderous father, inheritor of his self-righteousness! Look upon her, and see how small and useless she really is!”

The crowd booed and jeered in cacophonous unison. A few brave souls even tried to throw things at her, but they fell almost hilariously short. Gaius and I remained tense, hoping no one would notice we weren’t among the insulters.

“Ah, your anticipation electrifies the air!” Gangrel slowly paced his stage, looking on everyone with a slow, eager smile. The effect made it seem like he was locking eyes with everyone. “Yes, we all remember Ylisse’s crimes! We remember how their soldiers ravaged our homes, raped and slaughtered our people! We remember how they torched our capital, and massacred all in their path. We remember how their ‘Holy Swordsman’, the Demon of Blades, the Reaper of War, Death’s Bride… We remember how she purged our fair city, and butchered our royal family, right down to the babes in arms!” He stopped in the middle of the stage and threw his arms up and out. “Shall we have the witch-queen answer for those crimes at last? Here? Now? Today?”

The crowd’s roar of approval nearly deafened me, and actually made the loose stones on the ground rattle. The roar soon united into a single, fury filled chant: ‘Kill her! Kill her!! KILL HER! KILL HER!!’ Louder and louder, it grew, and the people punched the air in time with the words, stomping their feet to add more force to the words. ‘KILL HER!!! KILL HER!!!! KILL HER!!!!!’

“YEEEEESSS….!” Gangrel laughed, clenching his outstretched hands into fists, grinning like a madman. His eyes lit up, like this was simply a show. “Yes! We shall finally have our justice! We shall finally put our people’s ghosts to rest! Today, we burn out the infection once and for all!” He whirled to look towards where Emmeryn was, cape whipping about with the force. “Executioner!” A burly looking fighter stepped up behind Emmeryn then, axe already raised. “Bring down your axe and free our people at last!”

Gaius and I stiffened, hands falling for our swords. The crowd held its breath in anticipation as the executioner stepped a little closer… axe going a little higher… Emmeryn bowing her head, still in prayer… sunlight shining right on her, lighting up her golden hair…

“Flavia!” Robin’s sharp call pierced through the tension, freezing everything. “If you will?”

“On it!” Flavia replied. I couldn’t see her, but I knew she was either perfectly focused or smirking. Or both. “HAAAH!” A handaxe flew gracefully over everyone’s heads and hit the executioner square in the face, sending them flying off the rib.

I had no idea if the sudden silence was because of the attack itself, or the sheer knowledge that Flavia was strong enough to snipe a person, half-hidden by a hostage, with a handaxe. I knew she was riding with Sumia so that she didn’t have to throw it up, just over, but still. That was some distance!

“Please, get to safety!” I called, pushing the people closest to me towards some nearby buildings. They looked at me in shock. “I know; you hate me. But that doesn’t mean we want you dead!” I continued pushing them to relative safety. “Come on! Move!”

“...You’re making a distinction between soldier and civilian?” one asked. An older woman, one who might’ve been my age during the last war, who looked dubious. “Ylisse does that now?”

“You’re not the same person you were fifteen years ago, right? Is it so shocking that others change as well?” I made a point to get her behind a defensive wall, and nudged some shaking children at her. “We’re sorry we have to launch the attack now, but this is the only chance we have to save Emmeryn. So, Gaius and I are trying to get all those who don’t want to fight to safety, on Chrom’s orders.”

“...Prince Chrom… wants to make sure civilians aren’t caught up.” She scoffed, but there was a slight smile to her face. “Well, where the hell did he get those sorts of morals?”

“Emmeryn. Emmeryn, and a desire to not repeat his father’s mistakes.” I reached into my pack and pulled out a little sweet, courtesy of Gaius, to pass to the scared children. “Here. You may check it, of course. I’d be surprised if you didn’t. But, we thought the children might be easier to keep calm if they had some sugar to occupy them.”

“...You’re Plegian. I can tell by your eyes.” Her own eyes narrowed. “But… you’re with Ylisse.”

“Well, I’m sure as hell am not with Gangrel, considering what he allows. I don’t see why you all freak out over Ylisse’s crimes, and then go about doing the same thing to them. You can call it ‘justice’, but honestly, isn’t ‘justice’ supposed to make you feel better?” I shook my head, deciding that I’d rambled too much. Now wasn’t the time for philosophical discussion. “Stay here, and seriously, don’t move. It’ll be easier to make sure you’re not caught in the crossfire if you’re in one place.”

I moved away from her and continued working with Gaius to get people to safer parts of the area. Thankfully, no one else tried to make any snarky comments, probably because the sounds of battle started clanging through the air and made them far more glad that someone was taking charge. A few gave me weird looks, but I ignored them, continuing to clear out the area.

That is, until one, a little kid, snagged my sleeve. “Miss, you’re helping the lady up there, right?” they asked. I hesitantly nodded. “Grandmama doesn’t like her for some reason, but she looks nice. So… uh…” They pointed up, and I noticed that another person was making their way towards Emmeryn. “You… need to hurry?”

“Thank you,” I whispered. I bent down to kiss the top of their head, smiling as they giggled. “Get to safety quickly, okay?” I nudged them towards the crowd. “And… keep your eyes closed.”

“So that I don’t see scary things?” They nodded. “Okay.” They smiled and darted into the crowd. I watched them briefly, making sure they didn’t get trampled, before running for the nearby building. Plegia’s buildings were old, very old, and most were actually designed to be climbed, to make it easier to actually get onto the bones of Grima for formal ceremonies. Even with that knowledge, it still took me a bit to figure out a path up, and my arms ached from the climb. A couple of times, I had to jump from one ledge to another, and one heart-stopping time, I actually slipped, barely catching myself. My gloves ripped a bit as I struggled to keep myself from falling, and I made the mistake of looking down, realizing just how high I really was. Everyone looked comically small, like little miniatures, and it was all too easy to realize how bad a fall from here would be. If the impact didn’t kill you instantly, you’d wished it had.

I made myself look back up, focusing on the climb, and I made it, slowly, onto the ‘rib’. As I found my footing, though, I realized the person ‘going for Emmeryn’ wasn’t actually going after her. Aversa simply stood there, between Emmeryn and me, holding a dark magic tome and smirking.

“Ah, pretty little princess…” she purred, smiling slowly. I realized with horror that she’d baited me. Somehow, she’d known I was down there, and she’d known I’d climb up here if there appeared to be a threat to Emmeryn. “It is my greatest pleasure to see you’ve returned home.”

“This isn’t home,” I whispered. I unsheathed my sword, even though I knew she’d have a huge advantage in this fight, and not just because I knew she… was stronger. She was also a magic user, meaning she had less of a chance of falling off. I, as a sword user… “Oh, fuck you.” She not only baited me, but she also set me up for failure.

“Now, darling, if you really want to, you need only to ask politely~” She brought her hand up and her tome glowed. “But first… I think someone else holds claim first…”

She blasted me with magic before I could do a damn thing. I ducked under and opened my mouth to neutralize her magic, only to get hit with another blast, one that made my vision blacken briefly and nearly sent me flying off the damn rib. My sword went flying, flipping end over end before disappearing below. I scraped up my shoulder badly and as I struggled to stand, I got hit again. I tried to figure out how she cast so quickly, before I remembered her extensive tattoos. Made with the same ink tomes were written in, they shortened casting times in exchange for pain. Knowing my father as I did, it was entirely possible he cursed her to dull her sense of pain.

That said, there was a lot of power for this, and the casting was faster than I’d ever seen. I wondered if she was Shadowgifted, like Mom. It would certainly explain why my father would take her in.

“You know… I expected more of a fight,” Aversa drawled, after a fourth attack hit me and sent me crashing onto my back. “Princess of the Grimleal… daughter of Grima… yet you’re not putting up that much of a fight at all.” I struggled to stand up, but she casually walked over and kicked me in the stomach before stomping on my chest. I coughed and struggled to breath as she casually leaned forward, pinning me on my back. Her heel was right on my sternum and I wondered if she’d break it. “You’re the one Grima wants as his right hand, his precious ‘daughter’, yet you can’t even hold your own against me? Really?”

“Well, you do have an advantage over me,” I coughed. I managed to grin up at her, mostly because I only really had one way to ‘insult’ her at this point. “I mean… you’re so much older than-” I gasped in pain as she suddenly, viciously, stomped on me again. “Gah…”

“I’m not allowed to kill you, but I have to wonder if you might be a little more compliant if you’re missing a few limbs.” Her voice dropped to a hiss, and I had a feeling her age was a bit of a nerve. “Maybe an eye? They’re such a dull, drab color, after all. An ugly muddy brown. You got it from your mother, along with the filthy red hair.”

“Hate to break it to you, but I really don’t care much about how I look, so long as I don’t look like my father.” I glanced to the side, wondering if there was something near, somehow, that I could use. However, I noticed something else that intrigued me; I had a clear shot on Gangrel from here, as he laughed and ordered his soldiers. “But there is something I got from him that you keep forgetting about.” I smiled and brought up my shaking hand, my arm trembling as aching pain shot through it. “Ut incenderent tenebris in vobis benedictio.” She shrieked, jerking back, and she dropped her tome as she clawed at her own skin. It hit me in the face, but I didn’t care as I sat up, her tome falling into my lap. “You forgot that as Grima’s ‘daughter’, I can curse with only my blood.”

I tore a page out of her tome and threw it over the side before using the page to cast it. The power pulsed through me, pain following, and I grit my teeth as lightning flew from my hands and struck at Gangrel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fully control the spell, and Gangrel was a dodgy and lucky fellow, so most of it missed, but his screech of pain told me I managed a good enough hit anyway. Which was good, because even if I hadn’t thrown the tome, I doubted I could manage a second strike with that tome, even with my blood tie to Grima.

Aversa was definitely Shadowgifted if she used this tome as her normal weapon. Only Shadowgifted individuals could control dark magic better than Robin and me.

A cheer went up shortly after, and I grinned as I saw Phila and the other formerly captured Ylissean pegasus knights fly onto the field. Basilio’s job during all of this had been to liberate the captured soldiers, and they certainly succeeded. We had no idea just why they’d also captured the pegasi, but we weren’t exactly going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I waved at a few and tried to turn my attention to Emmeryn, intending on limping over and helping her onto a pegasus. But, as I did, I noticed that Aversa was still between Emmeryn and me, with Emmeryn too distracted by everything to look my way.

Aversa panted heavily, the breaths a little high-pitched. Her neck and chest were bloody from where she’d dug into her own skin to try and escape the pain I’d inflicted. Tears clung to her cheeks, and her eyes were narrowed into a vicious glare. If looks could kill, I’d be dead a thousand times over. I really would.

“You lot really don’t play fair,” she hissed, teetering a bit as she stepped towards me. However, she smirked, eyes glinting viciously. “Fortunately, though, neither do I.” She snapped her fingers, and black light sparked and blossomed, swirling around her and flying up into the air. I watched them slowly, recognizing them absently as a ‘message spell’, but wondered just what sort of message she could be sending, and to whom.

Then something pulsed through me, like a burning hot dagger sliding straight into my spine. I gasped from the pain, too light of a word but the only one I had, and buckled, struggling to breath as the pain crawled all the way through me, one tiny claw at a time. The Brand on my back felt almost alive, squirming and stretching to reach the ‘claws’. Tears ran down my face, and I choked on nothing, rolling onto my side and digging into the bone in a desperate attempt to somehow escape.

“Oh, hello there, my darling, darling ‘queen’. I’ve missed you dearly.” A voice echoed deep in my head. Smug. Powerful. Vaguely familiar on two separate levels. “Alas, you’re too far away for me to claim you. What a shame.” Bright red eyes filled my vision. Pools of blood, far too old to be human. “That thread of fate will have to be mended another day. Now, I have to fix what that detestable ‘light’ tried to snip. So annoying.” A shadowy figure looming over me, blocking out the sun. Blocking out all the light. “I don’t know what she thinks her stubbornness will do. Her father was far more stubborn, and he is my ever faithful servant.” A low, dark chuckle. “My ‘king’... and I shan’t let him go. Not for long. Just like you. You think you can fly, but I’m always here. Fate… can never be changed.”

The pain ebbed away, slowly, and I continued coughing, choking now on my own spit as I focused on breathing. Focused on the present. I shakily tried to pick myself up, wincing as I noticed I’d bloodied my fingers. I slipped a few times before standing on my shaking legs. That was when I heard the screams and thought to look over the battlefield, wondering what the hell was going on. I froze when I saw Risen, a whole army of them, had appeared out of nowhere. And the majority of them… were archers.

The screams were the sounds of the pegasus knights falling from the sudden undead army.

“Don’t you see how foolish it is to fight?” Aversa’s smug voice seemed so far away as I watched them all fall. I watched little crimson blotches bloom on the ground below, far too small for the lives they represented. “You thought you escaped fate? Fate doesn’t like that,” she laughed. I sensed her slink up behind me, and she wrapped her arms around me in a hug. I was reminded of Emmeryn’s, and felt cold, because I knew this hug wasn’t given to comfort. It was simply to mock me. It was probably why she’d let me stand up in the first place. “Why don’t you just accept it? It’s so much easier, right?” She kissed the top of my head in an almost-sisterly fashion. “Come with me. I know some people who will be so very happy to see you.”

She tugged me back, and I almost went with her, feeling so much like the doll I was ‘supposed’ to be. But a shout made me look up, and I saw Phila hadn’t fallen yet. She dodged arrows gracefully, like a dancer really, and got in close, though the arrowed blocked her from reaching Emmeryn. Her eyes darted about, and she and Emmeryn were discussing something. I wondered what it was, wondered what they were saying. They sounded too far away; their words were only mush. But I saw Phila’s eyes flick to me, and I saw Emmeryn glance back to me, and I figured it out.

Emmeryn was begging Phila to get me. Because that’s just how she was. Emmeryn had noticed me, at some point, and knew I was in danger. She wouldn’t leave me alone in danger.

Phila was begging Emmeryn to come with her, so that she could come back for me. Or, else, she was trying to figure out a way to get us both. She wouldn’t leave Emmeryn in danger.

I… had to get myself out of this situation. Because there was no way Phila would get both of us. In this situation, she might not even be able to get one of us. But if Emmeryn was to have any sort of chance, I needed to save myself.

“...I suppose running is pointless,” I whispered. I slowly reached up and clutched Aversa’s arm, as if I was accepting the embrace. But, really, I was just getting a good grip on her sleeve. “But, well, I’m not quite out of options yet.” I dug my nails in, and she squeaked in surprise. “And I can survive things a little better than you!”

I twisted, and purposely slipped off the edge, taking Aversa off with me. Almost immediately, she yelped and screamed a few words in Old Plegian. Dark magic scattered from her hand, and before long, I saw a pitch-black pegasus swoop below us, summoned by another basic calling spell. She struggled to get me off of her, but I held on, so when we landed ‘on’ her pegasus, she was my crash cushion. I swung my legs just out of the way of her resulting show of vomit, since I kind of landed on her stomach, and waited until I was a little closer to the ground before jumping down. It didn’t take long; the pegasus didn’t really know how to adapt to two people landing hard on it. So, I jumped off and rolled when I hit to bleed off momentum and try to not break anything. I ended up rolling a bit more than I’d wanted, though, since my injuries protested all the exercise, and I scraped up my side badly. But I could still push myself up. I could still walk. I was alive. I was alive, and in a situation where I could get myself to safety. Emmeryn and Phila didn’t have to worry about me.

I stumbled back, vision greying as the pain flooded me. I looked around, and then had to flatten myself to the ground as arrows flew right over my head. I jerked my head up to see that Phila was their target, and as I pushed myself up, I saw her dodge them all effortlessly before darting close to Emmeryn, one arm outstretched towards her. Her eyes narrowed with determination, and though more arrows flew by, none seemed even close to reaching her as her hands brushed against Emmeryn’s arm, ready to snatch her, to take her to safety.

But then there was a flicker of dark magic in the corner of my eye. Red-black flames wrapped around one arrow. Deep, echoing laughter thundered through my skull again. And the arrow’s trajectory bent. It bent, so that instead of flying harmlessly under Phila’s arm where it should have gone… it thudded up and under her breastplate, for a perfect lung-heart shot.

The air itself stilled from the shock of the blow l and I swore I heard her gasp of pain because of it. Still, she struggled to stay aloft, to reach Emmeryn and get her on the pegasus. But all her strength faded with the arrow and she slipped off her pegasus and fell. Two eternities later, more red-black flamed arrows ripped through her pegasus’s wings, sending it into a freefall too. Pure white feathers trailed after them both and the silence stretched on and on. Until their bodies hit the ground with a horrifying splat, bloodied feathers scattering on the wind, blood droplets splattering against the rough walls and streaming down the stairs.

I stumbled over to the blood, automatically, and I nearly gagged at… everything. She’d splattered. There was no other way to describe it. She and her pegasus had splattered. Red and pink everywhere. Barely resembling any sort of anything but… paste. Red and pink paste with little bits of cloth and feathers.

I limped a little closer and knelt down beside what remained, a strange ringing-roar in my ears blocking out all sounds. Blocking out everything except what was right in front of me. I poked at them, and wondered if I was looking for a pulse, or hoping there wasn’t one. I didn’t want them dead, not like that. But if they were alive… gods, I couldn’t imagine the pain they’d be in.

Something wet fell on my head. I looked up slowly, thinking that there was some other pegasus knight bleeding or, worse, a sign that I really needed to get out of the way since another was falling. But there was no pegasus knight. There was only Emmeryn, her tears glittering in the sun, her jaw clenched to keep her crying quiet.

“Oh, thank the gods. You’re okay.” Flavia suddenly appeared behind me, and she lifted me up, attempting to drag me away from Phila’s remains. I tripped over my own feet, though, so she focused more on steadying me. “Okay, all Shepherds accounted for, thanks to that Libra fellow and that Tharja girl,” she muttered. She was splattered with blood and sweat and the hand on my arm trembled. “So, at least we didn’t lose you two.”

“What’s going on?” I whispered slowly, fighting to process everything. The ringing-roar in my ears died, but I caught only silence. Not even the Risen were firing arrows anymore. “I… stopped paying attention when Phila fell.” I hadn’t been in time. I should’ve saved myself sooner. I should’ve fought harder.

“Gangrel is demanding the Emblem for Emmeryn, and he won’t let anyone but Chrom make the decision.” She tried to tug me away again, but I tripped over my feet again. I felt like my body wasn’t even mine, except I knew it was. I still felt pain. “Damn, you look as rough as Robin…”

“How is he? How is…?”

“Pained, wounded, and reeling from how everything went from ‘within acceptable’ to ‘worst possible scenario’ in half a second.” She slung my arm around her shoulders and tried to help me walk. It worked a little better this time, but I still had no real control over my feet. “Do you mind me carrying you?”

“No, it’s probably the only way to ensure we actually get out of being open targets.” I heard Gangrel laugh, and looked up to see he was back on the stage, bleeding and singed, but grinning like a maniac. “Oh, hell, Chrom just agreed.” I couldn’t see him, but I knew that’s what he did. That was the only reason why Gangrel would be laughing now.

“Well, no shit.” She crouched down to let me climb onto her back. “Stupid family treasure for a life? It’s a no brain-”

“Wait a moment!” Emmeryn suddenly called, making Flavia leap to her feet and me jump. Tears still clung to her face, but her expression was serene and her voice was even. “Please, can we-?”

“Silence!” Gangrel snapped, whirling to face her. He snarled up at her, hatred and anger apparent in his growl. “You will be-”

“I. Will. Not.” Emmeryn’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Not yet, at least. Is there truly no hope that you will listen to reason?”

“Not more of this sanctimonious babble!” Gangrel groaned, rolling his eyes. I wondered how the others were reacting. Probably more shock. None of this really felt real. “No, I think not! I want to listen is the thunk of arrows and the splat as you hit the ground, like your pathetic pegasus knight there!” He pointed to Phila’s remains for emphasis. “I want you to prepare to meet your maker! Unless someone wants to give me the Emblem, now!”

“...I see she was correct.” Emmeryn’s voice was very calm. Strangely calm even, considering everything. “I know you. I know you better than you think. A ruler must take on the will of their people, the wishes and the hopes. I strove for the peace my people longed for, and you took on your people’s desire for revenge. But you are blinded by that obsession, just as I was blinded by my single-mindedness.”

“Oh, blah, blah-”

“I would ask you to behave as a king, not a jester, for the first time in your life, King Gangrel.” Emmeryn’s voice remained even and calm. I heard Chrom call her name, but she ignored him. Her attention was solely on Gangrel, and he did not look comfortable with that. “Though I am blind, I did my best to listen. And thanks to that I know. I know the real reason why you seek the Emblem, even if you yourself do not.”

“Will you do me a favor and shut the f-”

“You are ill-suited to be a king, Gangrel.” She smiled then, a slow and regal smile. “But fear not. My next words, and actions, are not for you. You may ignore me now.” She turned then, and looked out over everything. Her smile warmed slightly, and I knew she was looking at Chrom. Then her eyes fell on me, and I saw her mouth something. It took me a few seconds to figure it out, and when I did, my blood went cold.

‘I am the Queen. Keep him safe.’

“People of Plegia, please, listen to me!” Emmeryn’s voice carried easily on the wind. I saw a few civilians poke out from their shelters. I wondered how that lady and that kid were. “I ask, nay, beg, that you hear the truth of my words! I know that I failed you as I failed so many, but please, know I speak true! “ She turned her smile onto all of them. Not her polite, serene ‘Exalt’ smile. It was her real smile. “War will win you nothing but sadness and pain! Surely, the past has shown you that!” She held out her hands, just a little, in a welcoming gesture. “You must free yourselves from this hatred! From this cycle of pain and vengeance! For yourselves and for your future! Do what you can, what you must!” Her smile grew, but I saw the fear in her eyes. The fear, the pain… yet also the love, the determination. The drive to protect. “And I shall do what I must! For you, and for my people!”

That was a lie. Or, rather, that was just an excuse. In her eyes, I saw the real reason why she was doing this, and I saw it because I knew, thanks to that smile, that she wasn’t being the ‘Exalt’. She was just being ‘Emmeryn’, and she was just doing what she wanted, for once in her life. She wanted to protect Chrom, as he had saved her so many times. And, in this situation, there was only one way to do it.

Someone pushed past me. It took me a blink to realize it was Chrom, rushing pointlessly for her. I chased after him, tripping a couple of times as I tried to remember how to move my legs, but managing it nonetheless. Though Flavia called for us both, I kept on running and kept my gaze up, watching Emmeryn. She looked over everyone, her smile fading back for her serious mask. She smiled slightly, bitterly, as if saying ‘was I wrong? Oh well.’. She looked down, closing her eyes as if laughing at herself, before opening them again, eyes serious. She was back to being the Exalt.

She walked to the edge slowly, steps purposeful and head held high. Chrom slipped on some loose rocks as he ran as hard and fast as he could. I followed him closely, still watching Emmeryn. Her eyes looked over everything again, and her eyes wavered. Her hands shook as she brought her hands together, as if in prayer. Maybe she was praying for this to work. Maybe she was praying that we’d make it out of here safely.

Chrom reached out to her, even though it was fruitless. I continued to watch Emmeryn. She looked down at the two of us and smiled. She mouthed some words, and though I couldn’t make it out, her eyes told me what she said anyway. ‘I love you. I’m sorry.’

Time slowed as she leaned forward. Time slowed as she fell. Her hair whipped behind her as she plummeted towards the ground. Her robes billowed. The sunlight focused on her, highlighting the gold in her hair and in her clothes. She still smiled. She smiled and closed her eyes as she got closer and closer to the ground…


...Silence… silence… more silence… I slowed to a stop. Chrom stumbled forward a few more steps before collapsing to his knees, a distance away from where Emmeryn impacted. The blood already pooled under her, staining her clothes crimson, little ribbons of scarlet seeping through her golden hair. The incline to the ground made the blood run, small little streams branching off into the various cracks in the stone.

...Silence. Silence. More silence. No one said anything. No one moved. No one even breathed. We all just stared. We stared, not quite comprehending what Emmeryn just did. We stared, watching the blood grow larger and larger. We stared, trying to connect all the pieces and come up with some sort of reaction. Any sort of reaction.

Lissa’s heart breaking, ear splitting scream broke the silence. It broke the silence, and started my own tears as I watched Chrom curl into himself and whisper a single, shaking word: ‘Emm...’

Maniacal laughter jolted me from my distant sadness, and I jerked my head up to see Gangrel was… he was laughing and clapping, like this was the end of some theater show. “Well now!” he cackled, nearly doubled over from the force. “How disgustingly noble! And so lovely of a fall! Here I thought death to be an ugly thing, but that was so beautiful!” He reached up and wiped at the corner of his eye. “Ah, look! It even made me shed a tear! I’ve never see a fall so graceful! I simply must do something to make sure I can remember such a beautiful moment!” He pretended to think for a moment, completely oblivious to the seething hatred and anger building, and then snapped his fingers. “I know! We’ll gather up her body and put it on display! Her face must be a terrible mess, but it’s not like she was a beauty anyway! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

There was some roar of rage. It was impossible to figure out the source. Maybe it was all the Shepherds. Maybe it was just myself, my own anger trying to break free through the shock. But then there was Basilio’s voice rising above the roar, ordering a retreat, followed by Flavia’s, and all the shock faded for a single thing. Emmeryn’s last request to me had been to keep Chrom safe. I… had to.

So, I walked over to him and crouched down, resting my hands on his shoulder and back. “Chrom, we have to leave,” I whispered. I shook him, but he didn’t react. “Chrom, we have to leave.” He still didn’t react, so I went for a different tactic. “Chrom, if we don’t leave now, the Shepherds are going to die.” That finally got me a reaction, though it was just to look up at me with a dry-eyed, but utterly lost look. He was too hurt to cry. I knew that instantly. “We need to leave.”

“But… her body…” Chrom croaked. He looked back towards it. The blood still trickled away from her body. “I… I need to…”

“...Lissa is going to die if we don’t leave now. We can get her body later.” I managed to pull him to his feet. But he still didn’t move. “Come on. Please, Chrom?”

“But…” He reached for the body, and he stepped forward. “I…”

“For me?” I shrugged helplessly when he looked back at me. “I’ve tried the Shepherds, I’ve tried Lissa… I know you won’t leave for yourself. Will you for me?”

“...” His expression crumpled, though he still didn’t cry. Instead, he nodded and let me lead him away. I held onto his hand tightly, too scared to let go, as we joined the others and ran as fast as we could.

As we did, I noticed there was a distinct lack of arrows, and took a single glance back, wondering why. When I did, I noticed… I noticed there weren’t any Risen anymore. Instead, I saw soldiers in their places, with fallen pieces of armor and weapons hinting that the Risen hadn’t just miraculously ‘disappeared’. Instead, they’d been destroyed, and now, the Plegian soldiers… let us go. They were letting us escape from here, though I had no doubts that we’d have pursuers, in time. They were giving us the only chance they could, even though they could kill us all, right here, and get their full vengeance. They could destroy it all, right now, but they didn’t. They let us leave instead.

I knew… if Emmeryn could just talk to them… they’d see her sincerity… I knew it...

Chapter Text

Chapter 10) Don't Say Her Name

We failed. Emmeryn's dead. We failed.

The rain made it hard to run. We were already tired, of course. Injured, even. And the rain was cold. It was cold, and it battered our shoulders and backs. I almost thought we'd bruise from it. Quite a few people slipped and fell in the mud. Those that fell more than twice were thrown onto horses. Panne and Nowi even transformed and let themselves be rode by some of the lighter members, just because we didn't have enough mounts to cover everyone who tripped.

"Robin, we need to keep going," I whispered, holding onto his hand tightly. He didn't say anything, but squeezed my hand back and did his best to keep up the rather brutal pace I set. Normally, he was far faster than I, but the stress of everything hit him hard. It was hard to know what afflicted him more: exhaustion, guilt, or pain. "One foot in front of the other."

"Why does this seem familiar?" he murmured. He stumbled, but I caught him. "A second…"

"Just the one." I glanced around, making sure no one had been left behind. I paid closer attention to Chrom and Lissa, but thankfully, Frederick and Maribelle had them still. I just had to focus on Robin, and trust the rest watched each other. "And we've run a lot."

"With such pain in our hearts?"

"...Yeah. It's not the first time we've seen friends die. It's just… the most recent."

"Ah." He looked down at the muddy ground, and absently kicked a puddle. "If only there was a way to remember the good and forget the bad. Maybe I'll ask Tharja for a curse."

"Please don't. I've already dealt with you amnesiac once." I shook my head, grimacing as my hair stuck awkwardly to my neck. Night was falling, so the temperature was dropping on top of the chilling rain. "We have to keep moving. We're going to freeze."

"We can't keep up this pace."

"We're not surviving this cold. We have no shelter." To throw off pursuers, we'd thrown the 'not essential' supplies down other paths. The tents had been among the last bits thrown. "Basilio said we're not far."

"This is my fault. If I-"

"If you've the breath for guilting yourself, you've the breath to run." I snatched his hand again and tugged. "Come on, we need to-" I yelped as I was suddenly splashed. It took a few seconds to realize it was because an arrow had flopped into the ground in front of me. "Oh, damn it…"

"So, you did divert to the Midmire." An older man stepped out from behind one of the 'giant rocks', really vertebrae of Grima's spine, and faced us with a carefully blank look on his face. "Henry was right, then," he murmured. More soldiers stepped out, and I ground my teeth. We'd run into a trap. "Quite the place to run to."

"Well, the idea had been that you all would think it too crazy," Basilio sighed, looking very exasperated. He stepped up to the front, keeping his axe to his side. Flavia lingered behind, though, with her sword unsheathed. "Midmire is a forsaken land with lots of floods."

"Hiding in audacity. Considering your plan earlier, and how many of our own you bested with it, I suppose it isn't surprising." The man frowned slightly. "My name is Mustafa, Ylisseans. I offer you a mercy. Surrender now, and live."

"Surrender?" Basilio scoffed. "Sorry, I'm not familiar with the word, especially from one of Gangrel's dogs."

"Thankfully, Feroxi Khan, I am not speaking to you. I am speaking to the Ylisseans. I know you are here with them as an ally." Mustafa looked over all of us, and his gaze focused on Chrom, half-hidden behind Frederick. "There you are. Now, Prince Chrom… Exalt Emmeryn-

"Don't say her name!" Chrom instantly snapped. He snarled, eyes flashing in fury. He might've lunged if not for Frederick. "Don't you dare say her name, Plegian!"

"...Your rage is justified, Prince Chrom," Mustafa whispered. "But the meaning of your sister's sacrifice was not lost on me." He held out his hand to Chrom. "If you lay down your weapons, I vow to protect you as best as I can."

"...But you can't do that, can you?" I whispered. I stepped forward, looking at the soldiers. They looked tired, shaken. "Gangrel would never allow it. At the least, Chrom would die. A man that could laugh at a suicide is not one to be trusted, and by consequence, no matter how sincere you might actually be, you cannot be trusted either."

"Your eyes see much." His own eyes narrowed slightly and they flicked to my hair, a common color among Plegians, and my eyes. "You remind me of a priestess who disappeared fifteen years ago."

"The world is funny like that." I shrugged. "Can you not just let us pass?"

"Alas, I cannot. Gangrel has his hold on me as well. Please, surrender."

"Given your king, we're better off taking our chances with weapons in hand," Frederick pointed out. He reached out and tugged me behind him. As he did, I noticed most of the Shepherds drawing their weapons, fury and murder in their eyes. "On the off-chance you win, it'll be a quicker death."

"So it would be," Mustafa murmured, bowing his head. "Very well. I will ensure your deaths are quick and dignified!"

It was hard to say who attacked first, us or them. It was even harder to really keep track of everyone as the fighting started. The mud churned under our feet, and the sounds of battle were nearly swallowed up by the splashing of puddles, the battering of the rain, the roaring of the wind, and the rumble of the thunder. Even through all that cacophony, though, I could still hear my comrades' angry words, intent on not onlyshowing the enemy how stupid it had been to attack us, but telling them.

"Here's how it's done!" "Your end has come!"

The smell of this battle was different. That was the first thing I noticed. The mud and rain blocked off the normal scent of blood, sweat, and other things. It created this very odd daze, for lack of a better word, where I expected the smell of death, but only got the rain's smell. Not quite as crisp and clean as rain normally was, but nowhere near as bad as a battlefield should smell. It made it all seem distant, like this was some strange sort of dream, really.

" Shall I make you famous~?" "Bye now~" "Hot death coming through!" "I'll make this quick."

I was alone on the field for once, mostly because it was hard to keep track of everything and everyone through the sheets of rain. I did notice that the Plegian soldiers I cut down didn't properly fight back. Their movements were too slow and jerky, like they were wearing heavy weights. When I killed one, I actually took their sword, just to check if it was heavier than it should've been. If anything, it was lighter. It wasn't their weapons and armor that weighed them down.

" Rebarbative fool!" "They've gotta notice this!" "That's enough back talk!" "I'll kill you twice!"

The next one I fought… well, I didn't fight. I swung and missed on purpose, watching their expression. They looked both relieved and disappointed as I moved past, and clunkily swiped at me. I stepped into the blow, catching it across my neck. Their eyes widened in horror as a little bit of blood trickled down, and they stumbled back. I gave them a mournful look, and pointed off the field, silently telling them to just run. After a moment, they did, giving me an apologetic one in return.

" Do you like darkness?" "I smell your fear." "You're so dead!" "Like candy from a babe!"

I walked around one of Grima's vertebrae, stepping around other soldiers that only half-heartedly attacked me. They looked so tired and drained, and I pushed a few into the hole within the vertebrae, silently insisting that they simply hide. One of them stopped me and rubbed some vulnerary across the cut on my neck. I gave them a smile in return and continued on.

" Your last breath approaches." "I am your omega." "Now you've angered me!" "Begone!"

A wyvern crashed into me, knocking me clear off my feet and into the mud. But the wyvern was off me in an instance, and soon, someone, the rider, was helping me up. Their wide eyes screamed apologies, and it was clear that they were just trying to land, just trying to get away from this madness. I'd been an unintentional target. So, I smiled reassuringly, and made a point to pet the wyvern's head before pointing to a place where they could hide. They gave me a grateful smile as I walked away.

" Don't look down on me!" "I'm gonna crush you!" "Now to face maker!"

There was some sort of scream, and for a moment, I tried to figure out the source. But then I realized it wasn't one with a source. Not exactly. Instead, it was a wordless cry of grief from everyone on the field that the wind twisted into something loud and heartrending. I wondered why the Plegians were crying, but I came across the reason fairly quickly. Mustafa was dead. Worse, Mustafa was mangled. In their own rage and pain, whoever had fought Mustafa had simple torn him apart, to the point that he was barely recognizable.

When I looked around, I saw most of the corpses lying in the mud and puddles were in similar conditions. My friends ripped them all apart.

"Olivia!" Basilio's happy call drew my attention forward, and I saw Olivia, wearing a soaked cloak and carrying a lantern, standing in front of him. "Good, you're here," he said, resting a bloody hand on her head, on the cloak. She smiled, and didn't mind. "How did you hide?"

"The general here showed me a good hiding spot, and he made a point to not look down at the ravine," she explained. Her smile faltered before returning. I noticed our group gathering up and started doing a headcount for the Shepherds. "He knew I was waiting for you all. He helped me anyway."

"Huh. Maybe he wasn't mocking us with the surrender offer then. Oh well." Basilio shrugged. "We need to get everyone into carriages. How are we? Did you lose any along the way?"

I tried to pay attention, but the world faded away as I came up one short for the headcount. I counted again, and then again, and then a fourth time. But the number was always the same. We were one short. I grew colder and colder as I looked at all the faces, wondering just who was missing, and I felt like ice when I realized who it was: Chrom.

I turned away from the others and raced away, desperately hunting through the rain, trying to listen for any sort of fighting or whimpering or anything. I slipped and fell a few times, faceplanting into a horribly red puddle once or twice. But I eventually heard the sounds of fighting, and I threw all my strength and energy into my legs to try and make it there.

When I arrived, Chrom was actually on his knees, coughing and bleeding, in front of three Plegians with fury and pain twisting their faces. It was such a contrast to the ones I encountered, and I tried to figure out why. But then I realized it was probably in hatred for what our group did to theirs. A horrible cycle of pain begetting pain. A cycle Emmeryn encouraged everyone to break free off before throwing herself to her death.

The three made to attack, with Chrom snarling up at them. I used the last of my strength to throw myself in between, catching a bad hit to my side in the process. The pain nearly made me buckle, and I might have fallen anyway…

Except Chrom caught me with a shaking hand. The other loosely held Falchion. "Kes!" he yelled, clinging to me. "Kes, what the… what did you…?" He growled something, and his grip on Falchion tightened. I saw it out of the corner of my eye. "You three are-!"

"Chrom, enough," I hissed, leaning against him. He stilled behind me. "Enough. Enough fighting today." I looked up and smiled at the three soldiers, who now looked so, so confused. "Run, you three. Just run. We escaped. That's all. You fought bravely, and we escaped in the chaos that resulted from your general's death." I made sure to smile at them. It seemed to make them falter. "Go. Quickly. He wouldn't want you to die, right?" I thought of Emmeryn's words. "Free yourself and go."

My words managed to get through to them. They glanced at each other hesitantly and then, after a long moment, nodded and ran, making a point to drop their weapons in the process. They shouted at their fellows, urging them to fall back. They weren't just running; they were doing what they could to get us a breather to escape.

"You are the most…" Chrom growled. He sheathed Falchion and moved to my side, face a stony mask. "Why didn't you let me… oh, never mind." He scooped me up suddenly and carried me in a princess-carry. I winced at the movement and whimpered as fresh pain spiraled out from the injury. "Sorry!" He looked down at me almost frantically. I nearly cried just because he wasn't mad anymore, and that was such a relief. "Is this worse on your injury? Should I carry you on my back?"

"No, I don't want to move anymore," I whispered. I managed another smile for him and reached up to touch his cheek. The rain made the blood splatter run pink down his face, like a mockery of tears. "As for why? Because I know that even in your anger, you'd never want to do something that would make your father pleased and Emmeryn, sad." I curled against his chest, too tired to maintain the smile, and let my hand fall. "That's all. You hate your dad and love her. So, I made sure you simply did what she'd want you to do."

"...You got hurt…"

"Honestly, Chrom, watching you become someone you hate would hurt a thousand times more." I closed my eyes then, trying not to wince as I remembered that conversation with Emmeryn too. He simply shifted me carefully in his arms and carried me to the others.

There was a long series of yelps at some point, signaling that Chrom had made it to the others, and I was quickly taken from Chrom and set up somewhere else where someone fussed over me. I opened my eyes briefly to see it was Sumia, who might've been crying. It was hard to tell, thanks to the constant rain, but her eyes were red. She hugged and kissed the top of my head when she noticed my eyes were open, though, and stood to the side only to let Maribelle crouch near and heal me up.

"What about Chrom?" I asked, curious. There was a lot of movement around us, and I saw carriages were near. Some were already filled, even. "He was injured."

"Libra, the dear, is tending to him," Maribelle explained. Her expression was grim. "But we have more trouble. Cordelia…"

"Shepherds, listen to me!" Robin's voice cracked through the general murmuring. "Cordelia has reported that we have pursuers!" he explained. One eye was shut from a bleeding head wound, but his other one was glaring. "We need a small group to act as a distraction, to meet up later."

"I'll stay," I volunteered instantly. I used Maribelle's shoulder as a crutch to push myself up, and tried not to wince. My body was feeling the effects of this far too long day, but I knew I wasn't the only one injured and exhausted. "I know the area a bit, so-"

"No. Denied." Someone picked me up by the waist and all but threw me into one of the carriages. It took a couple of blinks to realize a) this was the same one Chrom was pushed into earlier and b) Frederick was the one who threw me. "No, let it just be these two in here," he told someone, not even looking at us. "It's one of the smaller ones, so it'll be good cover. Put Princess Lissa in a different one, just in case." The door slammed shut and then it took off with a little lurch, knocking me right into Chrom. Which was better than Chrom, since he cracked his head against the bench on the carriage.

"...Holy shit, that all really happened," I whispered, shifting a bit to stare at the door. The carriage rattled and the rain thudded onto the roof. It sounded too much like arrows for my liking. "What the hell, Frederick?" I looked back down at Chrom, who blinked slowly up at me. He looked as dazed as I felt. "You okay?"

"Yeah, sure," he replied. He frowned slightly. "Are you okay? Your injury?"

"All healed up. You?"

"Yeah, fine." He flinched as some water dripped from my hair and onto his face. "Just fine."

"Good…" It still took a second for me to realize why water would fall from my hair to my face. I was pinning him. Awkward at any other time, but right now, I was too drained to feel anything but worry. "Oh, shoot, let me get off." It took a bit of maneuvering to do that, though. Frederick had been right; this was a small carriage, so there wasn't a lot of space on the floor for me to push myself up. Once I did, though, Chrom sat up too, and stiffly lifted himself onto one of the seats. I sat across from him, and leaned against the window, watching the rain. "You should sleep."

"So should you."

"So I should." We fell into a strange sort of silence, somewhere between awkward and comfortable. I wasn't sure what to say or do, so I simply closed my eyes, and tried not to remember Phila's last moments, and Emmeryn's last words.

I passed out before long, though. I supposed I was more exhausted than I thought.

A loud noise startled me out of my slumber, and I tried to jump to my feet and draw my sword. I ended up clonking my head on the ceiling and cracking my elbow against the wall. I sat back down with a whimper, resting my head in my hands as I checked for blood, and sat back, remembering just where I was. In a carriage with Chrom. And it was still raining.

"I think we hit a hole in the road." Chrom's voice was dull and soft. When I lifted my head to look at him, he was just staring out the window. It didn't look like he'd slept at all. "Nothing more," he murmured. I made some noise in response and settled back in my seat, watching him. A silence fell, one that felt horrible awkward. It had been a long time, or so it seemed, since he and I had an awkward silence. "I thought it didn't rain in the desert."

"It's rare normally, but the Midmire is infamous for sudden rain storms," I replied. I glanced out the window and saw next to nothing thanks to the rain. Grey, dreary, dark. That's it. "Where are we?"

"Not sure. We stopped for a bit, and I thought they changed out the horses. No one came to get us, though."

"Oh." Awkward silence again. Even worse, he wouldn't look at me. I wasn't really… used to this anymore. Not from him. "Have you seen any of the others?"


"Ah." The carriage rattled, and I was desperate to try and break the silence. I half-felt like jumping out of the carriage would've hurt less. "Chrom?"


"About… about Emm-"

"Don't." His voice cracked suddenly, and he coughed to try and clear it. "Please, don't… don't say her name…"

Fear and shock flooded me. It was the same words he'd said to Mustafa. I thought of how angry he'd been. I thought of how all the corpses had been ripped apart, basically. The rain thudded against the roof, sounding too much like the arrows that killed Phila. Phila, who went 'splat', just like Emmeryn, except Emmeryn chose

It all spiraled through my head, and that damnable silence fell again. I… I…

"Do you not want me to because you don't want to think about it?" I asked softly. I felt small. I felt like I was a little kid again. "Or… is it…?" It didn't help that he still wouldn't look at me. "Do… do you hate me now?"

"Huh?!" He jerked up, and winced as he cracked his head against the wall. "I… what?" he asked. Everything from his expression to his voice showed his disbelief. "No, never. I could never hate you." He looked almost pained by the thought, and guilt shot through me. "Why… why even ask?"

"W-well, a couple of things." I glanced out the window, too scared to look at him. "You were pretty angry earlier at Mustafa and the other Plegians. You and the other Shepherds basically mutilated the bodies and all, which tends to indicate a lot of hatred. And… I'm… I'm Plegian."

"That…" His voice was soft. I was too scared to look at him. "Kes, that's not… I mean…"

"And I was slow." This wasn't the time. I knew this wasn't the time to say any of this. But I was too tired and scared to dam up these thoughts. "I was up there too, with… with her. Sort of." I was scared of losing his friendship. Scared of losing the home I had found here with the Shepherds. I was scared of everything. "I was apart and couldn't hear, but I could just tell. She refused to simply go with Phila until I was safe. I was too slow in escaping."


"And you heard her." I wanted to stop talking but I couldn't. "It was my words she repeated. And I'm…" I hesitated, scared. But I couldn't stop. Now that I started, I couldn't stop. "I'm the one who told her… well, I guess a theory for the Emblem? I mean… I more told her what the Grimleal were planning, and the pieces went from there, but…"


"But still, that was me. My words. And I was slow." My voice cracked and my eyes burned. I tried to hide the latter by leaning more against the cool window. "And I'm… Plegian… by blood… so… I…"

Chrom seized me by the arms, and before I had time to even squeak, he pulled me towards him, holding me tightly against his chest. "No, that's not it at all. I don't hate you. I could never hate you. I just…" He paused, and his hug on me tightened. "It hurts. It hurts so much. It was the former. I don't want to think about it. That's it. It just hurts so gods damned much..."

"...Of course it does." I hesitated again, before shifting so that I could wrap my arms around him too. It was a bit awkward, sitting in his lap and all, but as he trembled under my hands, I thought he needed the hug too. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. Not yet, anyway. You're tired, and in pain. You should be allowed to scream. You should be allowed to be angry." Even if I did worry about the state of those corpses. But that was a conversation we should've had later, when he was calmer, when the wound had scabbed. "I'm sorry for being selfish."

"You're not being-"

"Yes, I am." I made my voice as firm as I could to head off any sort of argument. "I turned a discussion that should've been about you into being about me, just because I was scared." I lifted my head to look at him. He looked so worried that my heart ached. "Talk to me. Complain to me. Or simply cry, Chrom."

"But you-"

"Chrom, yes, I'm tired and I'm in pain. I adored her, and I feel like if I'd done something different, then maybe she'd still be alive." I brought my hand up to his cheek and he leaned into it automatically. "But, damn it, Chrom, you feel all those same things, right? But it's worse, because she's your sister. Gods, Robin losing his memory felt like a knife to the gut, but at least I still have him. He's different, and I'm still adapting, but he's still here." I tried to move to sit beside him, but he tightened his hold on me. "Chrom, seriously, let's focus on you." I moved my hand to his shoulder and tried to break out again. But, instead, his hold tightened even further. "Let's focus on you and not-"

His hand snaked up to cup the back on my head and push it towards his shoulder. I tried to struggle out, but his breath hitched and it wasn't long before I felt tears hit the top of my head. Slowly, I relaxed, realizing that this wasn't him trying to comfort me. This was him trying to get comfort from me. So, instead, I wrapped my arms around him again and curled into him as best as I could. The rain continued thudding on the roof, and the carriage rattled and jostled down the road, barely heard through the rain.

"She died for me," he whispered at last. His voice shook so badly that I could barely understand him. "I saw it. I saw it in her smile and in her eyes. She didn't want me to deal with that choice. She didn't want to risk Gangrel killing me after giving him the Emblem. She didn't want to give up what might one day save her people, both as an Exalt and as a sister who knew I'd never forgive myself. I couldn't protect her. I couldn't save her. She had to save me. Gods, why couldn't I ever do anything for her?"

I chose not to answer. It didn't matter, really, because right now, no matter what I said, no matter how much I insisted he had, he wouldn't hear it. He wouldn't believe it. So, instead, I held him tightly, and let him cry. I tried to shift so that he could cry on my shoulder instead of my head, but he refused to let me go, so I decided to just keep holding him like this. Clearly, it was more of what he needed, and I wanted to focus on what he needed, instead of my own fears and worries.

Chrom was in far more pain than I. Whatever comfort I could give, I wanted to.

Notes on Gaius:

Class - Thief; Reclass - Myrmidon, Fighter

A thief with a major sweet-tooth, with a heart of gold, though he admits to doing just about any job for the right price.

Fast and skilled, though not necessarily the strongest. He admits that he trained far more in stealth and speed, since strength isn't as important for a thief. Most super valuable things are light anyway.

He is normally calm and serious, though that breaks as soon as sweets are involved. He's also very wise, and makes a point to try and talk to everyone in the army. He also has nicknames for everyone.

Chapter Text

Interlude - Morale

We made it back to Ferox. Almost as if the gods were apologizing for everything, a blizzard swept along the path behind us, blocking our pursuers. Winter has come, far early, and with it, a strange melancholic hush. The 'distraction group' returned without a fuss, and the days pass, each hour feeling like a year or more. Everyone crumples bit by bit, the weight of our failure crushing them.

Gods, what am I supposed to do? Is this their punishment for being nice to Robin and me? Is it?

"We've got confirmation that our pursuers have given up. I suppose last night's blizzard killing more than half their people finally convinced them that desert people have no business in snow." Flavia attempted to deliver the words lightly, but her tone clipped the edges and revealed how exhausted and frustrated she was. "Ah, this is a mess," she grumbled, leaning against the wall. "How are our Shepherds?"

"In need of herding," I deadpanned, sighing. I leaned against the window of her study, looking out over the vast whiteness. Too much snow for this early in the year. "It's going to be a long and bad winter, isn't it?"

"Yeah, so we're definitely not doing anything until spring's here." Flavia growled something else under her breath. "So, my insignificant other, what say you to all this mess?"

"Well, I think it was a loss, ultimately, but not as bad of one as we were worrying," Basilio answered. Amusingly, despite this room being Flavia's office, he was the only one sitting. Then again, I'd wanted to look out the window and Flavia took to pacing when frustrated. "Got word from our spies. Between the attack on the capital, Midmire, and the snows, we've destroyed a large portion of their army, while we… lost about as much as expected, when taking into account the deaths of Captain Phila and the Ylissean prisoners, and Exalt Emmeryn. Sadly, though, the guard around Exalt Emmeryn's body remains too strong for mine to retrieve it." His spies had managed to get all the others, as best as they could in some cases, but Emmeryn's body was simply… out of reach. "Sorry."

"What about morale?" Flavia asked softly. She held herself stiffly, and I wondered if she was still feeling achy from the fighting. She'd refused healing. "Ours is damn low since we failed and don't even have the body."

"Hard to say, since Gangrel seems inclined to throw a damned party for it, but…" He trailed off, thinking. "There were a couple of rumors. Some of the spies mentioned things like 'she seemed really sincere' and 'she died to protect her people'. A few of the other rumors talk of how their views of Ylisse were shaken when we made sure to get civilians out of the way. Gangrel's laughter after Exalt Emmeryn died makes a lot of them uncomfortable. They don't feel better now that she's dead. The use of corpses makes them worry that their own dead for be desecrated in the same way." He glanced at me. "Apparently, there's even a couple of rumors that specifically mention 'the Plegian duo' that were alongside Chrom. Not sure how they figured that out…"

"It's the eyes," I whispered. I thought again of that woman and that child. I hoped they were well. I thought of Mustafa, who'd recognized me based on my mother. I hoped his death had been quick. "At least, that's what I'm always told. Maybe it's just the face in general. We both took more after our mother in looks, though Robin had inherited our father's hair color, and we're full-blooded Plegian."

"Well, apparently that's helping out Chrom too. Their morale is as shaken as ours," Basilio answered. He sighed. "So, it's a pyrrhic victory for whoever won. I'd say them since I think our morale is lower, but who the hell knows."

"Where did that term even come from?"

"Old Feroxi Khan." He gave me a weird look. "That was random."

"Sorry." I smiled slightly. "My mind has been spotty and jumpy. I was up late with Lissa."

"That reminds me…" Flavia murmured. She hesitated before nodding. "I've had my guards on watch for suicides. Have you noticed anything?"

"Thankfully, no. At least, nothing that's quick," I replied. I leaned more against the window. "But if we don't intervene soon, we're going to have some issues. More than half of the Shepherds aren't eating, even more aren't sleeping, and yes, that means overlap."

"I wish I knew what to do. I've already tried what I knew." She tried dragging people out for exercise, chores, anything to get their bodies moving. But no one, not even Frederick, had been up for it. "Ferox tends to have a short mourning period since we're always fighting. Doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, but we, as a people, don't really do the whole 'extensive starvation' thing."

"We tend to treat the deaths of family and friends more like another weight to lug around," Basilio added, shaking his head. "It's always there. You got to work that much harder because that weight will always drag you down, and sometimes, it's too much, but you keep moving. But Ylisse clearly isn't like that. If it was, then they'd already be moving."

"Oh, so that's where I learned that," I half-joked. Both of them managed little smiles. "Well, that and breaking down in tears, but I'm trying to actually hold it together for once." I looked back out the window, remembering how, the last time it snowed, everyone had a snowball fight. I wanted to see that again. "I think… I think, though, that we need to start pushing them. I'm note sure how long Ylisseans mourn and the like, but I wasn't kidding. Libra was telling me just the other day that he was worried about everyone's health."

"Do you mind if we leave that to you?"

"Yeah, sure." I smiled at them, and I knew it was tired. With both Chrom and Robin mourning, and Frederick constantly watching Chrom just in case, I'd somehow become the 'representative of the Shepherds' to anyone wanting to talk to them. Mostly, it was either people expressing condolences, people screaming about recklessness, and dealing with meetings with anyone and everyone who thought they had 'advice'. That was on top of staying up with some of the Shepherds because they couldn't sleep, or they were too dazed to be safely left alone. "I've an idea that I've been considering. But I'll first strike Robin out of his self-pity mourning."

"Like a brand to the ass?"

"Like a dagger to his ego." I pushed off the wall and stretched slowly. "I'll go do that while I'm sure I've the energy for it."

"Good luck, little miss." Basilio gave me a tired smile, and Flavia patted me on the back as I left the room.

This was going to take a lot of mental fortitude. I should read a poem about courage or something first.

I read a couple of my favorite poems before knocking on Robin's door. I knocked twice and got no answer, so I just opened the door anyway. Robin was sprawled out on his desk, candles melodramatically flickering as he stared out into space with dozens of crumpled papers thrown about the floor, with books half open and tossed aside. The room stank from sweat, mold, and stale food, with some molded food actually spilled onto the floor from where a bowl had toppled over. Honestly, it looked like he had hunted for the most angsty way to mourn someone in a book and copied it.

"Aren't you supposed to wait before entering?" Robin sighed, pushing himself up briefly to give me a dirty look. "What if I'd been changing?"

"Won't be anything I've never seen," I retorted instantly. "We bathed together as kids, and we've had to change clothes in front of each other before to tend to injuries." I shrugged. "Besides, you're my brother. It's not like seeing you naked is going to do anything to me."

"I don't have memory of that."

"Well, why should you feel weird at your sister seeing you naked? Unless there's someone who's caught your eye."

"Caught my eye?" Now he gave me a weird look before sighing. "Oh, romance. No, no one has. I think. How would I even know?"

"Ask Frederick. That's what I did." I closed the door behind me and leaned against it. "So, how are you?"

"I'm alive." The two words held all the bitterness in the world, and my heart ached. "Better than Emmeryn."

"That doesn't tell me how you are, or what you're thinking."

"It summarizes it nicely. After all, her death, Phila's death… It's my fault." He sighed, half-collapsing against the desk. "If I had planned better, then…"

"..." I closed my eyes and steeled my resolve. I wanted to just hug him and tell him it would be okay. To reassure him. But I and others had tried that, and it hadn't worked, so instead… instead, I had to try a different tactic. "Robin, I have a serious question." I waited for some grunt of acknowledgement before continuing. "Did you ever think you could fail?"

"What?" He lifted his head slowly, giving me the strangest look. "I couldn't. Not with those stakes. I couldn't fail because everyone-"

"That's not what I asked." I did my best to look as stern as possible. "I asked if you even thought you could." I waited, but his wide-eyed look was answer enough. "You didn't. You arrogantly thought that you could outsmart them. You paid lipservice to the idea that something could fall apart, but you didn't make a plan to actually deal with that. You thought you would triumph, because you had faith, because you were the good guy fighting against the bad guy, like this was some children's story where things are sharply defined. But the world isn't like that. The world is far more ambiguous. In many people's eyes, Gangrel was the 'good guy' trying to execute the evil 'witch queen'. Many had faith in him. You forgot that. No, you never even bothered remembering."

"I…" His shock faded for a look of… just lost. A lost look. "Kestrel, I…"

My heart ached, but remained certain. "It's not your fault that the Risen showed up. It's not your fault Gangrel used Emmeryn as a hostage. It's not your fault she chose to commit suicide to protect us and her people." I laughed bitterly. Frederick had told me similar things just the other day. "I mean… people keep telling me it's not my fault she's dead, even though I was too slow and it was my words she used to line her path. So, if that's somehow not my fault, the rest of it isn't your fault either." I took a deep breath, and glowered slightly. "What is your fault is that you never considered failure a possibility and took it into account. Not really. You made the motions, but didn't do anything. You blindly held onto faith, and in doing so, nearly turned the whole thing into a total disaster instead of simply a disaster. Thankfully, Basilio had an escape route ready for us."


"But that's not what I'm here to scold you on. I'm here to scold you for giving up!" I started yelling then, the sound enough to make him jerk back like I'd slapped him. "Sitting in your room, moping and moaning as the snow falls, isn't doing a damn thing! You're going to let one failure stop you? Really? You are the Shepherd's tactician. You are Chrom's best friend. Yet one failure is enough for you to go 'nope!' and give up? That's a being a poor tactician, and a poorer friend."

"That's not…"

"What? That's not it? You're not giving up? Then get your head out of your ass and stop making her death about you." That was the other reason I needed to have this talk with him. These were words I knew I had to hear too. "Grieve her passing, but stop starving yourself trying to serve out some imaginary penance to her ghost just to make yourself feel better. You and I had never been ones to take the easy way out. If we were, we'd have killed ourselves a long time ago."

"So, what do you suggest I do?" Anger bled into his words, and though they almost made me flinch, they also made me happy. Because he was finally reacting to something without melancholy. "In your oh-so-infinite wisdom?"

"You're a tactician. So, plan." I kept my tone blunt, and it was enough to make him stare again. "We have a whole winter. So plan. Come up with a thousand strategies, throw them all out, and come up with a thousand more. Expect failure and plan for it, instead of simply trusting that things will be well."

"...Gods, damn you for being right." He groaned, and leaned against his desk again. This time, it was to sulk at me. "Damn it."

"Too late. Gods damned us long ago." Still, I smiled at him. "You ready to actually take up your share of the leadership? Chrom's likely going to be out for a while longer."

"Of course he is. This is his sister, and he has to deal with the weight of being the Exalt on top of the weight of mourning." Robin groaned again and slowly stood up. He teetered, but caught himself on the back of his chair. "Holy hell, why am I dizzy?"

"You haven't eaten in two days, and I'm not sure you slept in that time either."

"That makes too much sense. Stop it."

"Sorry, not sorry." My smile softened. "I'm going to make food for everyone, though. You mind getting everyone to the dining room for me? Please?"

"Yeah, I'll handle that for you." He took a good look at my face, and then stumbled over to hug me. "I love you, sister."

"I know that." I hugged him back. "So-"

"No, quiet. Let me talk a bit." He tightened his hug. "I wasn't just… mourning Emmeryn. I was also trying to hide my own fear. 'What if you died like her?' That question kept echoing through my head. Over and over again. I saw her death, and then I'd see you dying the same way. Again and again. So, I… I became scared to plan. Not just because I failed, but because that failure could cost me you, just as my previous failure had cost Chrom his sister."

"...Robin…" Tears pricked my eyes, and I rested my face against his shoulder. I was so used to death being close that I never considered how much that would have bothered him. I almost took it for granted that I'd always survive. But I knew that fear. I'd felt it in the desert when the Grimleal attacked. But it had to be worse for him; he only had a few months worth of memories to draw from. "I'm here. I'm not so easy to kill."

"But it could happen. It's not impossible. My failures could get any of us killed. This mission… I knew it theoretically, but this mission brought it in sharp relief. You even took a few bad injuries because everything went wrong. So..." He trailed off, and simply held me even tighter. "But… you're right. You're right, and damn it, I almost wish you weren't. I am the tactician for the Shepherds. I took that job, naively believing that I could never lose, but that only means I have to work that much harder to ensure it. And I am Chrom's friend. He's my best friend. I need to support him as he has supported me so many times. I need to support all the Shepherds as they support us."

"Yes. That's what friends are supposed to do. But if you need a hug, I'm here."

"Yeah." He sighed and leaned his head against mine. "Just a bit. Just a bit of reassurance."

"I'm not going away."

"Good. And I won't give up. Not from this. Just need another moment to get my feet back under me."

"Of course."

It was longer than 'a moment'. We ended up just sitting at his desk while I told some funny stories from the past, and some amusing things I'd seen that day, like Raimi slipping on some ice and falling on her ass. But it made him smile, and with each story, he got a little more life in his eyes. I could tell he used them to build his resolve, so that we'd once again have time for stories like this.

He and I had always been ones to rise to challenges out of sheer spite. I knew doing this would work. Now, I just had to help the others.

"How the hell are you so good at peeling potatoes, Lon'qu?" I laughed, watching at how efficiently he'd managed to get them all peeled. "That settles it! You're peeling all the vegetables!"

"The cooks back home always make him peel them too," Olivia shyly explained. She'd been the one who showed me where the kitchens were, and somehow, I'd ended up dragging her into my cooking spree. Both of us weren't really sure how Lon'qu ended up being here. "I think this soup needs a little more ginger."

"Does it?" Still kneading the dough for bread, I leaned over and let her spoon some for me. "Ugh, you're right… Libra?"

"Here," Libra offered, passing us some grated ginger. He smiled softly as he returned to his seat at the table. "But not more than that. Ginger is good for the stomach, yes, but too much will overpower the recipe."

"Got it~" Olivia and I chorused, giggling. The four of us were clustered in the kitchens, making a feast for the Shepherds, though Libra was here more as an advisor and to make sure none of us hurt ourselves too much. It was an unfamiliar kitchen and we were cooking new recipes, things that the church served to those who hadn't eaten a decent meal for a while.

As the pot of soup started bubbling, Olivia started humming. Since I recognized the song, the Raven and the Heron, I started singing it as well almost absently, and soon, Olivia and I were singing the song as a duet, punctuated by randoms bangs and whistles as various dishes let us know they were overheating or about to be done. I felt a surge of envy at how lovely her singing was, but soon just found myself having fun singing and cooking. She was like that.

"That is the fourth song you two have burst into," Lon'qu sighed. He passed me a basket of peeled potatoes to mix into the soup Olivia was making, and then started chopping up some apples for applesauce. "Fourth."

"The kitchen is the last place for silence," I replied dramatically. Olivia giggled in response. "Besides, what's wrong? Don't like our singing."

"No, your singing is pleasing. I just don't get why."

"Do you need a reason to start singing? Can't it just be fun?" I grinned as he grimaced slightly. "Whatever. Got a song request?"

"...Sakura, Sakura."

"That's from Chon'sin, isn't it?" My grin widened as I started to sing it. I knew my accent was horribly off, but I'd really only heard some children sing it while I passed through.

When I finished, Lon'qu actually had a small smile on his face. "I thought I stumped you with that one."

"Never underestimate a mercenary!" I giggled again and hesitated a bit before deciding to ask something. "You okay, though?"


"You're in an enclosed space with two women." Though, Olivia and Libra were talking about dances right now. "I wanted to make sure you were alright."

"I'm used to Olivia, and you give me tasks to keep my mind busy and my hands steady. I'm fine." He actually sighed a bit. "Maribelle has been… helping me."

"Why do I have a feeling she offered with her normal bluntness?"

"She pointed out that a little girl with a spoon could do me in."

"Yep, she did." Still, I laughed because that was very much her. "Any suggestions?"

"None yet, but I will conquer this weakness."

"Trauma is not a 'weakness'. It is a scar that must be adapted to, though you can choose the adaptation to be avoidance, pushing through, or some sort of combination." I smiled at him when he glanced back at me. "If she gets too much, let Lissa or me know."

"...I will." He returned to his work, and I thought I saw a blush on his face. "The bread?"

"Right!" I darted for the oven and opened it up just in time, by the look of how golden the bread was. "Alright! First batch of bread is ready for cooling!"

"Yay!" Olivia giggled, skipping over to lean over my shoulder and look at it. "Looks good! I bet the others will love it!"

"I'm sure they will," Libra called, smiling reassuringly at us. "You have put much time and love into the food, and the cheer you show while cooking will transfer to the food as well."

"In that case, we should sing another song! Libra, do you have a request or…?"

"...What's all this?" A raspy, quiet voice somehow managed to make it through all the noise, and when I turned to look, I realized Chrom was in the doorway, with a tired, but smiling, Robin beside him. "It… all smells really good," he murmured, looking around the bustling kitchens. He was paler than normal, with heavy bags under his eyes. But there was a small smile on his face. "Wow…"

"Would you like to try some?" I asked. Debating quickly, I took some of the fresh bread and tore off a couple of pieces for him and Robin. "Here." I smiled up at him. "Just made, so it'll be hot, but…"

"Looks great." Carefully, he nibbled on the bread piece. I noticed Robin just watching us with a smile. "Tastes better."

"There will be plenty more later for everyone." I hesitated a moment before reaching up and touching his cheek. "Why don't you and Robin go ahead and sit in the dining room? Or get everyone? Robin was supposed to do that for me, but you should..."

"I think I'll get Lissa, at least, and bribe her with the bread." He managed a laugh, and leaned briefly into my hand before stepping away. "Let's go, Robin."

"Right behind you," Robin reassured. He winked at me and the two headed off. I giggled, and went back to cooking, splitting up the torn bread among the rest of us to make sure it tasted as it should and joining in on the song Olivia launched into, a surprisingly bawdy tavern song she must've learned from Basilio. Even more amusingly, Libra joined in on that one, while Lon'qu looked like he wasn't sure to smile, laugh, or hit us over the head with his cutting board.

This was fun. Now to make sure dinner wasn't a disaster.

Dinner… ended up being chaotic, but for good reasons. It had initially started off awkwardly quiet, until Sumia accidentally broke a glass, somehow triggered a four person tripping spree that made us all laugh. That led to the normal teasing and jostling that I associated with the Shepherds, and calls for seconds and thirds. Many started crying, random bursts likely triggered from being overwhelmed, but others were quick to turn those tears into tears of laughter, and by the time dinner ended, it almost felt like the melancholy that had plagued us had lifted. No longer quite a shroud, more of a cloud. Still there, but not nearly as heavy.

"Brrr… it's cold," Sumia laughed, breath fogging up in front of her face. Her face was already pinkish from the cold. "Ah, I should've worn more."

"Ask Frederick for a scarf," I suggested, tucking the one he made me a little better around my neck. "He made this one, and maybe the knitting will help distract him."

"Maybe." She giggled, and we continued our little evening walk through the grounds. We moved slowly, to minimize the chances of slipping in the snow. "I've been trying to help him. He's a bit more forgetful for the moment, likely because of the strain on everything. I mean; he's even been leaving pebbles in the path!" She giggled, and I had to smile, even though I knew better than most how deep his pain had to be. He'd watched the woman he loved leap to her death, after all. "So, I try. I mess up a lot, but it seems to make him smile, so maybe it's not all bad."

"The tripping today proved to be the perfect icebreaker."

"Oh, that one was actually on purpose." She smiled sheepishly as I gave her a startled look. "I knew I could play it off, and I asked Flavia if the glass was important. I mean; I didn't quite plan to trip like that , but I did plan on breaking it."

"I love you." I leaned into her, grinning. "You're the best."

"Hee~" She hooked her arm around mine. "I try to help Cordelia too, but I think Libra does it a bit better. He helps her with her nightmares, and scolds her for overworking."

"I'm sure you're doing a lot too, Sumia. Perhaps not so much with helping her overcome her trauma as Libra attempts, but in making her smile and making her trauma feel a little lighter."

"I hope so. Helping others keeps me from…" She trailed off, smile faltering. "I keep wondering if I should've gone up to support. I'd been in the back dealing with wyvern riders, but…"

"...I'm plagued with 'what-ifs' too." 'What if' I hadn't moved so slowly. 'What if' I hadn't told Emmeryn what I thought about the Emblem. "Fate was against us, though."

"But fate can be changed." She frowned, but her eyes were determined. "That's why I do my flower fortunes. A bad one just encourages me to keep my eyes out and do better. Even I can do that much."

"...I'm surrounded by weird people." I laughed a little, and she turned her frown my way. "It's nothing. Don't worry about it." The words of that laughing person still echoed through my head. I couldn't escape… I tried, but was it fruitless…? But giving in would doom all the Shepherds, and I couldn't do that… "Just… tied to why Robin and I were on the run in the first place."

"If you're sure…" She studied my face a bit before leaning over and pressed her cheek to mine affectionately. "Well, I think we can change destiny together! So, whatever you're worried about, we're here, okay?"

"I know." I smiled at her, touched. "It's why I'm still here."

"Good." She smiled back, and then gasped. "Oh, look!" She held out her hand and a little tiny snowflake landed on her palm. "It's snowing again."

"It is." I looked up at the sky and saw more snowflakes fluttering down. "When it calms, we should have another snowball fight."

"We should. It'll be fun." She giggled again and dropped her hand. "We should probably head… inside…" She trailed off, smile falling for another frown. "Is that… a person?"

"What?" I leaned more into her and she pointed to the shadow of a person carrying some bulky thing. "...Get the guards. I'll see who the hell they are."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah." I stepped away from her. "Be quick?"

"I will." She hesitated a moment before nodding and rushing off, slipping a bit in the snow as she did. I focused my attention on the person and carefully approached, wishing I'd thought to wear a sword. It was stupid to just 'assume' we'd be safe here, even with the guards and snow. That wouldn't stop an assassin, after all.

I studied the person as I got closer. Long, white-threaded gold-blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. Tarnished silver armor that was dented in some places. A silver hilted sword on the hip. When they looked up, I saw silver and sapphire earrings sparkling in their ears, and tired red eyes that seemed too old for their face. If I had to guess, they were in their early forties, but the eyes reminded me a lot of old, tired mercenaries.

"Oh, good, I was wondering how I was going to catch someone's attention," they said lightly. Their smile was worn, but kind. "I wanted to bring her here." She set the bulky burden onto the snow. I saw it was fairly large, wrapped in a tattered blue cloak or cape. "Didn't want that poor child to do anything to her."

"Her?" I repeated. I hesitated a bit before approaching. I kept an eye on the sword as I knelt down and carefully peeled off the top layer of the cape. I nearly screamed when I was greeted with a mangled, smashed face, and then I nearly cried when I realized there was only one thing about the face that was recognizable: the Mark of Naga on the forehead, all but hidden under the blood and gashes. "Emmeryn…" I set the cloth back over her face, and swallowed back tears. "You…" I looked up at the person, who watched me closely, yet sadly. "You got her body? Really?"

"Oh, it wasn't hard." They shrugged, as if it really wasn't hard, despite the fact that every single one of Basilio's spies, trained in stealth, failed to do the same. "Just soldiers. Beat them up. No big."

"You fought through a bunch of soldiers, won, and escaped…" I shook my head, incredulous laughter bubbling to my lips. "Who even are you?"

"Someone who should've been closer, and now, just doing what I can." They shrugged. "Anyway, here's her body. You should take it inside."

"You should come with me. Chrom will want to thank you."

"...I don't have the right to speak with him." They shook their head. "I feel bad about leaving the cape since it was a gift, but Emm's worth the loss. Take her to her family. I'll make sure to deal with any pursuers stupid enough to follow me." They suddenly leaned down and peered at my face. "What's your name?"

"Kestrel." I studied her expression, but found next to nothing. Tired. Sad. It was like those two things were so much a part of them that there was no way to escape either. "Why?"

"No reason." They smiled, slow, bitter, and sad. But there was some genuine happiness in the smile. "Just curious. I'll be off." They turned away, not pausing one bit, quickly disappearing down the snowy path. I watched them leave, trying to figure out just who the hell they were. It wasn't until much later, after Sumia had returned with some guards and we got Emmeryn's body inside that I realized something that should have startled me, but I'd been too distracted to catch in time.

They'd called Emmeryn 'Emm'. But only Chrom and Lissa called her that, right?

Flavia and Basilio graciously allowed us to borrow the mausoleum, where Ferox laid their Khans to rest (or their memorials if the body was unretrievable), so that everyone could pay their respects to Emmeryn's body. I insisted on keeping the body wrapped, letting Frederick see only when he half-begged. Afterwards, he'd agreed with me, but suggested leaving the option to at least see the face. I'd reluctantly compromised on it, but worked with Libra to get a lot of ginger concoctions ready, just in case. By the time everyone finished, we'd had to make three more batches. Everyone had wanted to, despite my warnings. I couldn't even pretend to be frustrated, though. Seeing the face made it far more 'real'.

"So, there it is," Chrom whispered. After the viewing, we'd all moved into the dining hall where we'd just had such a fun little dinner. Now, though, the melancholy had returned, the cloud pressing heavily on everyone, threatening to become a shroud again. "She really is gone." Most of us were sitting at the tables, but Chrom stood apart. The idea was for him to make a speech, but it was clear actually seeing the body had robbed him of what energy he might've had. "You all fought brilliantly in that battle. I…" He hesitated, and it half-looked like he was going to collapse. I stood up from my seat to go to him, but I saw Robin do the same, so instead, I simply moved to the back of the room. "Sorry. I'm sorry, everyone. I'm sorry for being so powerless, and..." He trailed off, clearly losing the energy to try and form a coherent sentence, based on how he swayed and struggled to stay on his feet. The mood of the room dampened further, and I sighed, wondering if Emmeryn's death was going to be too much to overcome.

"Chrom." But then Robin spoke up, in a voice that was soft, yet sure. "Chrom, raise your head and look at me," he whispered. He smiled when Chrom briefly glanced at him. "No, I don't mean just glance at me. Really look." He held his arms out slightly as Chrom turned to face him, silently emphasizing his words. "Why are you talking as if you're the only one who felt powerless back then? Or ever? I know that feeling. I felt it then too, but I knew it from before. Standing n a field alone with no memory of anything, lost and confused. But then someone offered me their hand to help me up. Do you remember?

"...Yes, but…"

"And now, look at me! Here I am, tactician with a bunch of really good friends. I'm still hopelessly weak, powerless, but with everyone, I'm someone who can be strong." He rested a hand on Chrom's shoulder, though Chrom looked away. "Alone, we might not be half the person Emmeryn was. She was older, after all, and had a lot of responsibilities to shape her and her beliefs. But, together, I think we can become something greater. I think she knew that too." He gestured at all of us gathered in the room. "You don't have to become her, you know. You can still be yourself. We're all here because you're yourself, after all. You just have to give the people hope, however you can."

"And what if I can't?" Chrom's voice sounded so small. "What if I'm not worthy of her ideals? What if…" His voice cracked. "What if I drag you down with me?"

"Well, then we both hit the ground, laugh at the bruises, and pick ourselves up. That's what friends are for, right?" Robin grinned and he looked out over all of us. "Come on, people. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way."

"Of course not!" Nowi cheerfully agreed. She leapt onto a table to make sure she could be seen. "I mean, did you forget? I wouldn't be here if not for everyone!" She smiled and even laughed. "I'd be running through the desert scared out of my mind!"

"Besides, it wasn't Emmeryn who gave her trust to me, it was you," Tharja added, stepping out of the shadows. It was the first time I'd gotten a proper look at her, given how chaotic everything had been, and she looked almost annoyed she had to say anything. "So, you have mine. For now."

"As you have mine," Lon'qu, surprisingly, agreed. He actually stood up, though it was simply to move to the pillar nearby and lean against it. "You told me that your Shepherds joined voluntarily, and I did so. Were you unworthy, I would have left long ago and returned to my Khan."

"My, my, if even taciturn Lon'qu speaks up, then I must as well," Virion dramatically sighed. His smile was kind, though. "It takes great courage and charisma to unite such a diverse people. I think that is proof enough that you stand worthy. Trust me, I have the traits myself!"

"As if," Ricken snarked. He stood up on the table next to Nowi, ignoring how Virion gasped and pretended to be insulted. "But Chrom, you're like a hero to us. We really look up to you."

"Everyone…" Chrom breathed. He looked around, and as he did, something hilarious happened. Most of the Shepherds started climbing onto the tables too. I had no idea why, but it was a little inspiring to see. It was like they were elevating themselves above their broken selves, or stepping into the cloud of melancholy and demanding it get out of their face. "You…" He looked each of them in the eye, as if seeing them for the first time, and finally, he smiled. It was still a little sad, and a little broken, but it was beautiful and captivating. "Ah, I'm an idiot. Why should I flail about? I have you to keep me from falling, don't I? I'm sorry for being so blind."

"Remember that next time I give you advice," Robin teased. He grinned, but I could see he looked ready to cry, because it wasn't just Chrom the Shepherds were looked at with warmth and loyalty. It was also him, and that meant so much to him. "So? My Captain… no, my Exalt…" Robin took a step back and knelt down. "What is our goal?"

"..." Chrom's smile faded for a look of grim determination, and the whole room held its breath. "My Shepherds… my warriors… my friends. There is, unfortunately, more work still to be done. We lost my sister, but we have not lost this war yet. Gangrel must fall for the safety of not only our homeland, but also for Plegia's. My goal is to rid the world of his madness." He took a deep, shaking breath, hesitated a moment, and then pressed on. "But you are my Shepherds. As Lon'qu said, everything about our organization is voluntarily. So, I ask… are you willing to still help me?"

"I'm in!" Lissa replied, barely even given Chrom time to finish the question. Her eyes flashed as she punched the air. "I'm sick of crying and being weak. It's time to punch Gangrel's stupid face in!"

"Hear hear, darling!" Maribelle added. She twirled her parasol almost like it were a rapier and pointedly stabbed the table next to her. "The people have suffered enough! We'll show them just what it means to anger a healer!"

"Precisely! Who else is with us?"

"I am. As I swore the day I became a knight, I will gladly fight and die for House Ylisse," Stahl declared, face uncharacteristically serious. He jumped off the table and took two steps forward to kneel before Chrom. "I'll swear it again, to the new Exalt, a ruler I will follow to hell itself."

"Though we'll be sure to send those bastards ahead of us," Sully agreed. She leapt down and knelt beside Stahl. "Gladly will I fight and kill them for House Ylisse. Always."

"I will be the unbreakable shield by your side," Sumia stated firmly. She climbed down carefully, and knelt beside Sully. "I have taken no official vows, but I will make them now, as a pegasus knight and Shepherd of Ylisse!"

"And I will renew my own vows as well," Cordelia said, jumping from the table to kneel beside Sumia. "I failed before, but I will not do so again, my lord Exalt."

"And I too, speak my oaths again." It took a second to realize Kellam was there, but he knelt solemnly among the group of knights. "For the new Exalt, and for the country he will lead," he whispered. "I promise to serve until my dying day."

"Our hearts echoes yours, sire," Libra added after a slight pause. He smiled gently as he stepped down and bowed low. "We are here for you."

"Teach is here, and class is in session!" Vaike laughed. He moved to simply sit on the table, and grinned. "We've got this, Chrom."

"Yeah, this group is far too sweet to stop here," Gaius commented. He also sat on the table, smirking, though in his case, like the other not-official-Shepherds, he hadn't been standing in the first place. "Besides, you all pay nice."

"Yes, good payments are always nice," Gregor laughed. His eyes were warm as he nodded. "So, Gregor be staying a while longer, yes?"

"I will stay as well," Panne whispered. She stayed off to the side, but there was a small smile on her face as everyone looked to her. "Your sister earned my respect, proving that her words were no mere wind. It is only right that the last taguel champion her."

"...Ha… everyone has grown up so much," Frederick murmured. He smiled gently, though he also looked ready to cry. "You've grown strong." He walked forward and knelt in front of Chrom. "I have set a poor example for how a knight should act, but I swear that I will die before failing again, my lord. As always, you have my lance, until the day I fall."

"...Damn it, I'm going to cry," Chrom half-joked. Somehow, it just built on the tension in the air. "You honor me with your fealty." He closed his eyes, and a tear did slip down his face. But when he opened his eyes, they were filled with determination and resolve. "I will not falter again. I swear this to you all, here and now." Across the room, his eyes caught mine, and I smiled softly at him. His own smile grew triumphant in response. "We will gather our strength. We will marshall our forces. We will bring the full might of our people onto the Mad King's head, and strike him down to free our lands!"

The entire group cheered, loud enough to actually shake the dust from the rafters. And scare a couple of the servants, who'd been coming in to let people know that baths were ready. It took a while to calm them down, and get people off the tables, and then organize where and how Emmeryn's body would be stored until it could be safely moved back to Ylisse. Then it was a matter of convincing people that yes, they did have to go to bed, and that they could do their new training and drills in the morning.

After all of that, I finally managed to stumble back into my room, and had planned on simply sprawling on the bed and passing out. However, I noticed there were two pieces of paper on the nightstand by the bed, and when I picked them up, I found they were poems. One was ' Oh, Captain, My Captain', a favorite of mine, handwritten beautifully, with little feathers along the side, suggesting someone had taken the time to copy it carefully. The second, written in the same handwriting, was another poem, and one I didn't recognize, that almost seemed to be from the point of view from the 'Captain's' successor, and how grateful he was. It, took, was decorated with little feathers along the side.

This… couldn't be from Chrom, right? There was no way he had the time to do any of this today. But as I smiled and I read the poems, I wondered who else it could be from. Only Chrom, Robin, and Sumia knew I even liked the poem. Out of those three, Chrom was the only one I knew of who also wrote poems, and the words just seemed so fitting, all things considered. What did it mean, then, that he'd left me two? If it meant what I thought, was now even a proper time to ask? I had no idea.

But they made me smile, and for the first time since Emmeryn died, I went to bed giggling and giddy, instead of exhausted and drained. I could live with that.

Notes on Cordelia:

Class - Pegasus Knight; Reclass - Mercenary, Dark Mage

A recent pegasus knight of Ylisse, Sumia's best friend, and the sole survivor of the initial border guard. She tries to downplay the trauma by overworking, which Libra scolds her for. Constantly.

She's strong and fast, though it must be admitted that she's slower than Sumia. Capable of using just about every weapon to some small degree, and according to Tharja, shows a potential for dark magic, which is worrying.

Though she's considered a genius, she can be an absolute idiot about self-care, and a busybody. Her perfectionism leads her to constantly do things herself, and a strong dislike of being pitied leads her refusing help, even when she needs it.

Chapter Text

Winterlude 1 - Poems

Winter creates a gentle hush over the world here in Ferox. The snow makes it hard to go outside, but luckily, the place is big and there is a lot to do, so no one has gone stir-crazy yet. The focus is mostly on training, getting stronger and the like, and gathering information. Spreading rumors, shaking enemy morale, building our own, getting aid to Ylisse while away… that sort of thing. We have all winter to plan for the next assault.

Maybe if we're lucky, we can end this with just one more battle. Maybe.

Every day. It had been a week and a half, maybe closer to two weeks, since Emmeryn's body was returned and everything got their second wind. And, every day, I got two poems. One in the morning, a painstakingly and beautifully done copy of a favorite, and one in the evening, an original work that often followed similar themes to the favorite. I smiled like an idiot while I read them several hundred times, and I carefully kept them together, half-wanting to bind them together in a book to make it easier to keep safe.

"Should I confront him or not?" I whispered to myself, tucking the latest poems into the small pile I had on my desk. I was almost certain it was Chrom writing these, but I'd be mortified if I was wrong. Or if this was some sort of 'proper' thing that I didn't know about. Was I allowed to confront? I wanted to ask, but I wasn't sure who to ask. It seemed mean to ask Sumia, Frederick was busy with managing everyone's new training schedules… Lissa was an option, but there was something just… odd about asking your crush's little sister if he was trying to court you. "Oh, but Maribelle…" Maribelle was certainly an option, and more to the point, while she'd be blunt about it, she'd also be honest.

The problem, of course, came from gathering the courage to broach the subject. But, as I shook my head and stashed the poems into the drawer, I decided that I wasn't going to get anywhere but another mess in my head if I didn't try to figure this out. As much as I liked the poem, the… ambiguity was going to drive me nuts. So, after taking a deep breath, and jumping a few times to pretend I was peppier than I was, I stepped out of my room, making sure to close the door behind me.

To my surprise, though, Maribelle was actually in the hall, with Cordelia. Both of them looked vexed about something, and when they focused their attention on me, I suddenly had a very, very bad feeling.

"Ah, there you are, darling," Maribelle greeted, her voice mostly friendly. The way she pointedly looked at Cordelia, though, but the tone fall a little flat. "Do you mind telling this blind harpy that Lissa is far superior to that addlepated butterfingers she calls a friend."

"No, Kestrel, please tell this ignorant fool that Sumia is far superior to someone who has the naivety and idiocy to pick one such as her as a friend, Kestrel," Cordelia growled. She glared at Maribelle and I tried to wrap my head around what was going on. This was not something I expected. "With a smile that outshines the sun, kinder and funnier than anyone…"

"Ha! Unintentionally! My dear's wit is exceptional and intentional, with as bright of a smile without the blunders to go with it!"

"With a myriad of pranks and lack of sense instead."

"How dare you!"

"What is going on?" I asked, instead of just running like a smart person. "And why am I being dragged into it?"

"You are a neutral party, darling," Maribelle explained. She didn't even look at me. She just glared daggers at Cordelia, who returned it with such an intensity that I wondered if there was going to be some sort of fire. Or a passionate kiss. "So…"

"So, are we talking best friends like the names imply, or dolls like the words imply?" I sighed as both of them gave me startled looks. "Honestly, who compares people like that? Don't we have enough troubles without you two arguing about who is the 'better' best friend? Are you going crazy from being trapped inside?" The howling wind of the latest blizzard rattled the nearby windows, emphasizing my point. "There's no way you two will come to an agreement. You're not only comparing your best friends like trophies and titles to be won, but we're dealing with your respective first friends, the friends that changed your lives forever and helped shape you into what you are. This entire argument is groundless from the start, and it would behoove you to simply… I don't know… just hang out with your friends. Make a tea out of it or something."

"...Mmm…" Maribelle glanced at Cordelia, and then suddenly smiled. "I think I'd give that a seventy-five percent," she suddenly declared. I gave her a weird look, but she ignored me for Cordelia. "What do you think?"

"I'd go with eighty-five personally, as the use of intimate knowledge does much to touch the spirit," Cordelia replied. She smiled sweetly. "I think that would soothe."

"Fair point. Shall we average the two for an eighty then?"

"Yes, that sounds good."

"What the hell?" I half-demanded. I felt horribly out of place as the two smiled and giggled. They had literally been glaring at each other just three seconds ago. "You two were just…"

"We had already come to an accord with this argument prior, but realized it would be good practice for you," Cordelia explained. She still smiled gently. "It's a skill you need to develop, defusing arguments."

"Among other things," Maribelle sighed. She tsked, for some reason, and gave me a once over. "We also need to work on dancing and courtly manners, how to dress… there's a lot to do, so we thought we needed to get a jump on it."

"...You two…" I began. I tried to think of what else to say. "Is now really the time?" The problem was that I had no idea how to react. I knew why they thought I needed these 'lessons', and I couldn't decide if I was happy or annoyed that they simply took it as a given that I'd need them. It wasn't as if Chrom and I had the time to sit down and talk about… anything… "Ugh, whatever. I don't care." This time, though, annoyance won out. "I'm going to go train." I stomped past them, ignoring their little yelps of protest.

"Oh, darling, I'm sorry!" However, Maribelle caught up with me quickly, wrapping her arm around mine. "I promise I was… well, never mind that. I've upset you, and thus, I must apologize first."

"It's…" I sighed, relenting. It was hard to stay mad, especially since Cordelia came up on the other side to give me a one armed hug. "Sorry. It's all so ambiguous."

"Is it?" She frowned. "Well, clearly, I need to give Chrom a stern lecture about not properly courting."

"...Well, actually, that's…" I paused, trying to think. I felt awkward, talking about this, especially in front of Cordelia, but she looked rather eager to hear. "I've been receiving poems?"

"Oh!" Maribelle's frown dropped for a smile, and Cordelia actually squealed in delight. "Tell me more, my dear!"

The hesitant conversation turned into having a morning tea with the two, and Cordelia sighing gustily as I explained the poems, and Maribelle analyzing every little bit. I spent most of the time as red as an apple, but I had to admit it was pretty fun. And reassuring. Very, very reassuring.

After the tea, I intended to go and train like I'd originally said. But on the way to the practice grounds, I ran into Lissa, who'd just finished her axe training with Libra, and she all but begged to have lunch with me. I couldn't refuse, and so, she and I had a light meal where I made sure she drank a lot of water. Sumia ended up joining us too, mostly because we passed her along the way, and after lunch, the three of us just… hung out in Lissa's room, reading. Sumia and I read poems, of course, while Lissa… Lissa read our favorite book.

"Wait, but what does this even mean?" Lissa asked, whining a bit as she passed the Ribald Tales of the Faith War to Sumia. "It was talking about kissing, and then suddenly a beautiful flower?"

"W-well, um…" Sumia began. She turned very red, though, and I nearly fell out of my chair laughing when I realized what was going on. "You see, Lissa… um…"

"Sex," I noted bluntly. It was worth how red both of them went. "They're having sex, Lissa. Just skip the next couple of pages."


"It is! I'm surprised that scene didn't show up during that girls' night we had and Miriel read them aloud."

"She's in the second generation."

"Oh, wow, you went fast."

"It really is interesting, gratuitous sex scenes aside," Lissa mumbled. She was red all the way to the roots on her hair. "The ones in the first generation were pretty blunt, though. What's with the metaphors?"

"Who knows?" I replied, shrugging. I grinned, though. "It's hilarious to see your reaction, though!"

"Kestrel!" Lissa pouted, and I snickered. "Oh, whatever. I'm in 'For Whose Sake'."

"Oh, so you have two chapters left." I leaned back in my chair, and glanced out the window into the gardens below. The blizzard had cleared up sometime during morning tea, and a few brave souls were actually walking through the snow. "Shouldn't be long."

"Are you sure? Because these chapters are long. I feel like I've been reading this chapter for days, and I'm maybe halfway through."

"Yes, well…" I shrugged, losing focus on the conversation as I noticed something interesting. Robin and Olivia were actually chatting below, with him clearing some snow off a bench so that she could sit. She seemed almost embarrassed while he laughed at something, and I could only smile. I tapped the window, and waved when both of them looked up. Robin waved back with a giant grin, while Olivia's smile turned shyer.

"What's caught your eye?" Sumia appeared at my shoulder, and waved too when she saw Robin and Olivia. "Oh, that's the second time I've seen them hanging out. Olivia was discussing something about a theater?"

"Well, she is a dancer, so maybe a show?" I asked. I smiled up at her, and shrugged. "I'll bring it up later. It's good that he's heading outside. He needs the fresh air." He's taken my suggestion of 'planning' almost too seriously, requiring people to actively drag him from his room. At least he went along with it. "I wonder if the snow will stay clear long enough for everyone to play outside."

"I can go ask Flavia what she thinks." Sumia hopped back and giggled. "It'll be fun."

"True." I laughed as well. "Though, hopefully, we won't have weird people showing up."

"It worked out. But I'll be right back!" She scampered off, tripping twice before even leaving the room, and I laughed, watching her leave. As she did, though, I remembered the 'weird person' who we'd seen. The one who brought back Emmeryn's body, who also called Emmeryn 'Emm'. It still struck me as bizarre. So bizarre that…

"Hey, Lissa?" I called. I waited for her to make some sort of noise in acknowledgement, and still hesitated. She was completely engrossed in her book, holding up to her face even. "Do you mind if I ask something odd?" Another agreement noise. "Who all called Emmeryn 'Emm'?"

"That's… a weird question," Lissa replied after a moment. She set her book in her lap, and looked up at the ceiling, clearly thinking. "Well, so long as I've been around? Just Chrom and me. Emm only lets… let... family call her that." She shrugged. "So, I guess our parents, and Clara too? Maybe."


"Yeah. You know her, right? I'm sure Chrom's mentioned her." She did pause, and only continued when I nodded. "I never met her or anything, but I know how Emm saw her as her aunt. It makes sense that she'd use the nickname." She sighed gustily. "Wish I could've met her. She was supposed to be super pretty. Blonde hair and red eyes, and always dressed in silver armor with a blue cape…"

"...I see." I tried to think of what else to say. But that description… matched the lady who had retrieved Emmeryn's body for us. "Thanks. Sorry for the weird question." If it was Clara… then it was clear that no matter what else, she at least was doing what she felt she could for her 'nieces and nephew'. Even if she kept apart. "Oh, here's a poem I wanted to show you. Come over here."

As Lissa moved to sit beside me, resting her head on my shoulder, I decided to keep that suspicion quiet. It felt like what Clara had wanted, and I wasn't sure if the knowledge would help or hurt them. So, I'd stay silent. Sometimes, the truth was more painful anyway.

Sumia had returned to happily explain that Flavia was certain the blizzards wouldn't pick up for another week. Almost immediately, we started gathering the Shepherds to head out for a snowball fight, laughing as we all fussed over each other to make sure we didn't freeze completely. Lines were drawn, teams were formed, and it turned into a strange free-for-all in the end anyway, with everyone shrieking from cold and laughter.

"I can't believe you got hit with a rock," I sighed, dabbing some vulnerary on the gash Chrom had on his temple. Someone, no one knew who, had accidentally caught a rock in their snowball and it hit Chrom hard. "I knew we should've stopped sooner." The snowball fight had continued long after the sun had set, by torchlight. Small wonder that a rock got caught in the snow.

"Everyone was having fun," Chrom protested. He winced as the vulnerary disinfected the wound, but made sure to smile at me. "And who knows when we'll next be able to go outside?"

"I doubt it was much fun seeing you bleed suddenly." Almost everyone had panicked. "I think Frederick is going to clear every single pebble before the next one."

"Well, it'll be nice for him to get back to normal, even if he fusses too much." He made a face, and then glanced at the door. Frederick had been here not all that long ago, but he'd left when he saw I was tending to the injury. "Coming right to my room… I'm not eight anymore."

"No, but you were injured, and he did just lose Emmeryn." I shifted in my chair to get more comfortable, and nudged him to not move back. He was sitting on the bed, after all, so if he moved much more, I wouldn't be able to reach the injury without awkwardly leaning over him. "He loves you two dearly."

"...Yeah, and we love him. It's why I wish he'd relax, and live his own life." He sighed. "Oh, whatever. He and I need to have a proper talk anyway, about… everything."

"I'm sure." If nothing else, some of their dynamics would have to change. Chrom would become the Exalt. I had little doubts that Frederick would be his right hand, but there had to be some formal things to go along with it. "And, done." I set the vulnerary on the floor and stood up, stretching a little as my legs protested. "Just let me get a bandage on it."

"I keep some in my desk." He nodded to it for emphasis, and made to stand. "Here, I'll-"

"No, you stay put. You're the injured." I laughed a little and went to the desk, pulling a drawer open at random. "So, this one or-"

"W-wait, not that one!" Chrom was suddenly at my side, a hand on my shoulder to try and pull me away. "Kes, seriously, I'm not so injured that…"

He said something else. I knew he did. But everything just… faded away as I stared at what was in the drawer. A half-written poem within, with the same feather drawings on the side as all the others. Original, following the same themes as the one I'd gotten this morning, remaining strong in adversity.

"Hey, Chrom?" I whispered, looking up at him. He wouldn't look at me, instead just looking at the floor with a dark-red blush. "You're the poem writer."

"I… um… yes?" he replied. His voice was a little squeaky. "I am."

"Hee… I thought so." I smiled, and it grew as his blush darkened further. "After all, you're the only one in the army who knows this many of my favorite poems."

"W-well, I thought I'd… try my hand, and um…" He visibly groped for more words before shrugging. "Do… you like them?"

"I love them. I'm going to make a book of them to have with me always."

"I'm glad…" He smiled shyly, still not quite looking at me. "It… has been a bit since I've written some poems."

"What made you start? I don't think I asked that."

"It started because of proper manners classes, but Emm…" His smile faltered, but he pressed on. "Emm liked the ones I wrote. They made her smile. So…"

"That's super sweet." I laughed, thinking of how like him it was, but as the sound faded, a thought occurred to me. "Chrom?" I waited for him to look at me, and even then, I almost lost my nerve. "You… mentioned you had wanted to tell me something. When we were camping in the desert. I…" I hesitated a bit, looking down as his expression slowly became serious. "I wasn't sure about bringing it up, since… well, you can probably figure out. Given everything that happened and… all. But…" My face started to burn, and I wanted to look up, but it seemed like I'd dropped all my nerves on the floor, since it held my gaze so completely. "I do… want to hear what it is. If… you're still willing to tell me, I mean."

"...Yeah." He walked closer, and touched my cheek gently, tilting my face up. His face was as red as mine now. "I…" He tried to say more, but while his mouth moved, it seemed like he couldn't pick out the words he wanted. His face got redder and redder, and mine did as well as I waited and waited. "Oh, screw it." He bent down suddenly and gently, very gently, brushed his mouth against mine. I froze, startled, but he didn't seem to notice as he pulled back far enough to look at me with an intense, but warm, gaze. "I love you. I've fallen in love with you, Kes, and honestly, I half-think I have been since we first met, but hell if I paid attention. Emm's right. I blocked out any crushes and the like out of guilt for what she had to deny for duty, but that's… not what she wanted and…" He sighed. "I'm rambling about unimportant things." He paused, still watching me. I stared back, more than half convinced I was dreaming. "Kes?"

"...I think you made my brain stop." I hesitated, glancing towards the moonlight filtering in through the window for some sort of distraction. Finding none, though, I decided to be a little bold. "Maybe another k-kiss will make it start again?"

"...I can oblige." This time, though, while he leaned forward, he didn't completely close the gap. Either waiting for secondary permission, or just… a confirmation that this was something I wanted to. So, I leaned up and tried to kiss him. I misjudged, though, and accidentally clacked my teeth against his. Before I had time to be mortified, though, he smiled, laughed slightly, tilted his head, and kissed me warmly and soundly.

I closed my eyes instinctively, feeling my pulse thunder in my ears. I gripped the front of his shirt tightly, and felt his heart beat rapidly, almost as fast as it would during a fight. His hands slid around my waist, one resting there while the other slid up my back, making me shiver, before tangling in my hair. He pulled away briefly, his breath ragged against my face, and then he leaned in again for another kiss. I leaned into him, trying to get as close as possible, and he clung almost desperately to me, even as we both pulled away, staring at each other as we both tried to decide if we wanted to go for a fourth kiss or not.

Shakily drawing in a breath, I looked down and rested my head against his shoulder. His pulse was still so fast under my fingers, and I absently smoothed the cloth there, as if that could help calm it down. I was pretty sure that wouldn't be the case, though. My own pulse thudded, loud enough that I was afraid he'd hear it too.

"I… love you too," I whispered when I thought I had enough breath to form coherent words. Chrom tightened his hug on me. "I had to ask Frederick to figure it out, though."

"No wonder he nearly died of laughter when I talked to him earlier," he murmured. He pulled back slightly, and smiled warmly at me. "I… the courts are harsh, and we've a lot of reconstructing to do. But, if you're willing…"

"I worry that I'll bring you more trouble." I tried to look down, but he cupped my cheek and tilted my face back up to look at him. "There's no way your nobles will accept a Plegian mercenary with no past."

"I'm sure you'll dazzle them as you have me." He smiled slightly as I rolled my eyes. "If you're willing to bear the duties…"

"I'm willing, but I don't… oh, we're going to argue in circles at this rate." I sighed and leaned into him again. "I do… want to be with you, though. I love you. I… I want to stay with you. If you think I can be a good enough queen, then…" I thought of all the Shepherds and how much advice and reassurance they'd given me. I thought of how, just this morning, Maribelle and Cordelia had done what they could to help me. "Then maybe, I should just trust in the people I love, and just focus on what I want."

"...And I will follow my heart, just as Emm wanted." He tightened his hug. "I will make the castle a happy home for us, though. I'll do whatever I can to make sure you smile every day."

"And I will figure out how to be a queen, so that no one thinks you're simply mad with love."

"Well, I am, but that doesn't mean they get to see me lose all my wits." He kissed the top of my head. "We'll figure it out. This war, and the reconstruction. We'll figure it out. Together. And we'll make a happy life, together."

"Yes. Together." I tilted my head up then, not really thinking about it, and smiled when I realized he was already leaning down for another kiss. We kissed again, many, many times. Whispering reassurances and half-thought plans for the future in between with what breath we had before we stole it from each other again. This… was a very strange turn in my life.

But I loved it. I loved him. We'd… make it work. With my father dead, I… I was due a little bit of happiness, right?

Notes on Nowi:

Class - Manakete; Reclass - Mage, Wyvern Rider

A manakete who is over a thousand years old, though she looks to be in her early teens. She acts childishly, but at times, she provides some of the wisest advice in the group, likely because she is, by far, the oldest.

Thanks to being a dragon, she is incredibly strong even when not transformed, and can take hits that would kill a 'human', rather like me. She also shows a strong magic potential, surprisingly.

She mentions that she goes through odd growth spurts, where she'll stay the same and then suddenly physically age before 'stopping' again, and that she thinks she just started one. She hopes that it'll lead her to at least look her late teens, so that no one yells at us for 'fielding a child'.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11) Sickles and Merchants

Our days are spent more or less the same. The main difference, really, is that poems are not snuck into my room. Instead, Chrom gives them to me directly, along with a kiss on the cheek. I still blush madly, but I wouldn't give up the happiness for anything. It's almost easy to forget that we are still preparing for a war.

But prepare we do. Gangrel will regret everything when we fall on him. We'll make sure of it.

Word spread quickly that Chrom and I were officially 'together'. Basilio and Flavia were apparently very confused because they thought we already were together, but promptly threw us a congratulations party that resulted in half the Shepherds in the infirmary. Somehow.

"You should move your right foot a little more out, Kestrel," Robin instructed. He was helping me practice how to dance in a large empty room. "See? Better for the turn."

"I suppose so," I replied, still feeling all tangled up. I could fight on a battlefield with ease, but I swore waltzes were going to kill me. Not even going into the other dances I had to learn, according to Sumia and Sully. "How did you learn again?"

"Sumia let slip that you were having some trouble, and I figured it would be a good skill to know, so I asked Olivia to teach me." He grinned and spun me around, laughing as I stumbled. "How are you so graceful on the field and bad at this?"

"I don't know. How can Sumia trip over air, yet fly through it with an elegance that rivals Virion?" I scowled when he just laughed more. "But you seriously just learned to help me?"

"And because, as I said, I thought I might need to know as well. After all, I'm not making you attend balls without at least me to gripe at." His laughter faded for a soft smile. "Virion and Maribelle have been teaching me as well. Something about how, given my role during the war, and how I'm your brother, and how there are some vacancies in the ranks, I'll be cursed with a noble title." He made a face and my annoyance cracked enough for a giggle. "So, it's beneficial for both of us!"

"And you learned from Olivia." I moved to sit on the windowsill nearby, looking out the window. A thin layer of frost covered it, making the outside scenery looked faded. I had to make myself remember the fun times like snowball fights, looking at all the snow. I used to avoid being around so much snow. "You've spent quite a bit of time with her."

"Well, that's the secret. She's been teaching me to dance." Robin sat beside me, leaning against the window. "And we've chatted a bit. She wants to open a theater and she explained to me what sort of things happened there. Like plays! They sound interesting."

"I see." I smiled, remembering something. "You and I saw one play, long ago as children. We had to sneak in, and you always wanted to see one 'properly'."

"When things are peaceful, let's go!" He grinned, eyes sparkling at the idea. "Or, well, there will supposedly be one at the end of next month. Olivia's performing in it."

"Then let's see if we can snag seats for it. I'm sure it'll be very popular." Movement outside caught my attention, and I leaned against the glass to try and pick it out. I smiled when I realized it was Frederick and Sumia walking through the snow, with Sumia slipping on some ice and Frederick catching her. "Anything I should know about?"

"With… what?" He frowned a little. "In general?"

"Yes. I've been stuck in 'Queen Lessons' for quite some time."

"I'll tell Gaius to steal you away for some fun." He grinned. "Aside from that… well, you know me. Everyone talks with me, or at me, but not all of it is substantial. Gaius is convinced he owes you for silence and keeps Tharja busy when she tries to watch me sleep again, Libra scolds Cordelia for overworking, Maribelle and Lon'qu work through his gynophobia together, Miriel tries to investigate Kellam's ability to disappear, Stahl and Panne hang out with the horses a lot, Sully and Vaike spar constantly…" He shrugged, and I tried to not react to the whole 'Tharja watches my twin brother sleep' thing. He wasn't bothered, but I had to say I didn't like it. Still, Gaius was a very capable person, so maybe I could just… leave it to him… "Virion writes letters, while Lissa takes on more duties since she is now 'technically' the heir. She made a mention of looking forward to when she'd no longer be the direct heir." He yelped as I went red. "Y-you okay?"

"I'm fine!" My voice was squeaky. "She's… Lissa won't be the 'direct heir' when Chrom has a child. That's what she meant."

"Oh." He paused, getting a thoughtful look. Then he grinned. "Wait, I'd be an uncle in that case, right? That's how it works?" The grin faded for confusion and a trace of fear. "Wait, how does one be an uncle!? Augh… I need to look that up!" He leapt to his feet and then yelped as I snagged him by the shirt and dragged him back down. "Hey!"

"Chrom and I haven't even… we're not even engaged yet!" My face hurt from the blush. "Don't get ahead of yourself!" I whimpered, thinking of all the lessons. "Ugh… at the rate that I'm going, it might be a good idea for me not to be queen anyway…"

"Ah. No." Robin poked my forehead, making me squeak. "If I can learn to be a good tactician, then you can learn to be a good queen. You're my twin sister. I have the uttermost faith in your ability to learn." He smiled warmly and took my hands to squeeze reassuringly. "And if you mess up, I'm right here with you. So are all the Shepherds. You'll learn how to be queen one step at a time."

"...Okay…" I smiled back, touched by the words. He was right, of course. I knew I had everyone. It was just a rather daunting task. "Well, do we continue the lessons or…" A knock on the door cut me off, and I had to fight back a sigh. "Or get caught up in trouble?"

"Trouble, of course. It's us." Robin grinned before turning to the door and standing. "Come in."

"Sorry!" The door creaked open and Olivia poked her head inside. She gave us a small smile before it faded. "We just got some troubling news," she whispered. "A nearby village might be under attack."

Well, here we go again.

So, it wasn't just a village under assault. We learned of the attack because we had a female merchant also being attacked, and one of her traveling companions had raced for us, hoping that we could mount some sort of defense.

"Chrom, I'm going to remind you that I am a hardened mercenary," I noted dryly as he helped me over a fallen log hidden in the snow. The blizzards had knocked down quite a few trees, but thankfully, there was no word of any casualties. Feroxi knew how to weather their blizzards. "I do not suddenly lose my ability to handle things just because I admitted to being in love with you."

"Aw, but I like helping you, Kes," he teased. He brought my hand up and kissed it through the gloves. "Besides, it's an excuse to hold your hand."

"You don't need an excuse, Chrom. Unless I need an excuse to hold yours?"

"Never. My hands are ever yours, as is my heart."

"Oh. My. Gods. I'm going to vomit rainbows," Lissa teased. She jumped next to me and took my arm. I glanced back to see the rest of the Shepherds were hanging back to help with the horses, bogged down by the snows. Lissa must've given up with helping. "Seriously, wow, you guys say that with a straight face?"

"I suppose we are a little silly," I laughed, smiling down at her. It did my confidence some good, knowing she accepted my being Chrom's lover. "Should we tone it down?"

"No way. I have a new things to tease Chrom about!" She leaned around me to grin at Chrom. "Stay the same! You two are fine!"

"Whenever you find someone to catch your eye, dear little sister, remember I will repay any and all teasing," Chrom half-warned. His smile softened the words. "Which reminds me. Has anyone caught your eye?"

"Um… nope!" Lissa chirped. She gave me a little look that said 'I want to talk later', though. "Anyway… hey, what's that?" She pointed to a little odd lump in the distance. "Is that… a person?"

"I think so." Chrom frowned. "Get your staff."

"On it!" She scampered off, and Chrom and I ran forward, slipping in the snow and ice as we ran towards the lump. At first, I thought it was just a cluster of discarded clothes, and a pot for some reason, but then the cluster moved, revealing it to be a young boy. With a pot on his head. For some reason.

"Easy, easy," Chrom murmured, helping the boy up. I took off my coat and draped it over the boy, knocking off snow in the process. "You okay?"

"I… uh…" the boy groaned. He blinked slowly, and a bit of clarity came to his eyes. "Who are… wait, the village!" The boy lurched forward, but Chrom and I stopped him. "But…"

"Easy, my friends and I are here to assist." Chrom smiled at the boy's startled look. "Though, if you can tell us what's going on?"

"You're here to help?" The boy's face lit up with a bright, relieved smile. "Y-yes, milord! Right away, your… your graciousness!"

"...That's not a…" He sighed, smiling slightly. "Chrom. My name is Chrom. So, lad, what is-"

"PRINCE CHROM?!" The boy looked more and more frantic and confused, even flailing about slightly. "W-what are you… oh, man, did I fall asleep in the fields again?"

"You're awake." Chrom's smile grew, but I could also tell he was warring between amusement and exasperation by how he shifted. "So-"

"Oh, man, how are you supposed to talk to a… no one back home will believe this." The boy was clearly in his own little world. "Actually meeting our prince!"

"...Your prince?"

"Yeah, I'm from Ylisse! Evacuated with Ma and the rest of the village because of the war." He bowed low suddenly, pot helmet nearly falling off. "I am so not worthy…"

"I… that's…" Chrom sighed. Exasperation won. "Can we get to why you were fallen in the snow without any sort of protection from the cold?"

"Oh. Right. Sorry, Your Majestyful." The boy straightened, and I had to turn away to hide my laugh, and facepalm. "Oh, wait, is that lady the one you're courting?"

"...Kestrel?" He pointed to me, and the boy nodded. "Yes? That's… wait, how do you know about that?"

"Gossip spreads fast, and it's good news. The villagers will be ecastatic to meet your wife!"

"...'Ecstatic'. And we're not married yet." Chrom looked amused, and I had to fight to keep from blushing. I knew I failed by how his smile grew. "But villagers? Cold?"

"RIGHT!" He bowed again. "S-sorry, your-"

"Deep breath, child," I finally interrupted. My face was red, but the poor boy was having a heart attack. "He talks in his sleep, by the way, and he's always breaking things."

"Don't go telling people that!" Chrom yelped. His face went red as the boy tentatively looked up. "And I don't break everything!"

"Well, that's good to hear, since you have my heart. I'm rather certain I'd dislike that being broken." I smiled gently at the boy while Chrom went even redder. "So, child? Your name?"

"Donny!" the boy instantly squeaked. He smiled sheepishly. "That is… Donnel. I'm called Donny."

"Well then, Donny…" My smiled widened. "Are you calm enough to tell us what happened? I imagine meeting a royal in the middle of snowy nowhere did nothing for your nerves."

"Nope!" He grinned, but it soon fell. "Those rotten-teethed, pig-stinkin' bandits have attacked the village that took us in! They're rounding people up for bandit camps, and… and Ma told me to run, so I did, but…" Tears suddenly filled his eyes, and I knew everything was catching up at last. Poor child. "She's… she's all I got. Bandits killed my Pa, and the village I lived in is all scattered…"

"The war breeds more evils by the day," Chrom sighed. His blush had faded by now, so his determined look actually looked dignified. "Easy, Donny. We'll save your 'ma'. For now, let's get you treated."

We got Donny over to the others and explained what was going on. Chrom and Robin began to plan, but while they did, I noticed something odd. While everyone did their best to hide it, I could see the hesitancy in their eyes, the insecurity in their movements. I watched them for a moment, seeing it wasn't just one or two people. It was nearly everyone. Hell, even Frederick seemed off, though he hid it by helping Sumia fix something on her saddle. Sumia gave me a strained smile that was supposed to be brave, but fell short. That was sort of the point I decided someone had to bring it up, and clearly, it was going to be me. I was tactless like that.

"...What's wrong, everyone?" I called, waiting until they all looked at me before continuing. "We're going to save some villages from bandits. It's nothing fancy." They all still looked hesitant, and I wondered if it was because the last time we mobilized… it had been to that failure. Emmeryn had died. "Didn't you all declare that you'd walk forward with your heads held high? That you'd end the war? Well, how can you end the war if you can't save a village?" I crossed my arms, and gave them a droll expression. "If fear takes you, then you've already lost. If you hesitate, innocent people are going to die. So, Shepherds, are you going to retreat back into that melancholic fear?"

I waited. I waited for a significant time, the blood roaring through my ears as the silence seemed to stretch forever. But then I saw small little smiles and nods, and the hesitancy in their eyes faded for the determination I was so used to. It was still there. But there was the courage I was used to.

"There we go. That's the look." I grinned, my stomach in knots. "You're the Shepherds, the band of kind-hearted weirdos I love. You dare to do the impossible. So, let's get the villagers and kill some bandits, yeah?"

The Shepherds cheered, the sound loud enough to shake some snow from the branches. As they did, Chrom moved to stand beside me, and gave me a smile so filled with warmth and affection that I went bright red and ducked my head to hide my face in my scarf, scared that my cheeks were warm enough to melt the snow.

I just… oh, I didn't even know. I'd feel more like myself after killing some bandits. Maybe.

The plan was simple. Distraction, bait, and escape. Half the Shepherds would distract, most of the others would bait, while Donny, Gregor, and I snuck past to reach the villagers. It almost seemed too simple of a plan, but Robin had protested against a complex strategy. He freely admitted that the plan to save Emmeryn had been too complicated, with too many things that could go wrong, and felt that it was better to stick to basics. The other Shepherds seemed to agree.

"Man, you guys are amazing," Donny whispered. I nearly winced when he kicked a stone, but he fixed his footing after I nudged his leg. If nothing else, he could learn fast. "I wish I could do all those sorts of things. Being strong, killing bandits…"

"Nearly dying and losing friends," I instantly pointed out, pressing against the side of a house and peering around the corner. The villagers, as best as we could tell, were being held in the town hall, and we had to go the long way around. "Fighting isn't sunshine and rainbows."

"Neither is being helpless in a bandit fight." There was an awkward pause. "If you'll pardon my rudeness, my lady."

"None taken. It's a good point." I frowned as I noticed some bandits passing close. "Okay, Gregor? You and I might need to silence a couple."

"Wish I could help…"

"You can, wee one," Gregor suddenly reassured. He smiled kindly and patted Donny on the head. "No one is born warrior. Farm work good training. Sickle and sword similar. You can do it, if you want."

"I… huh?" Donny looked so confused. "Seriously?" he asked. "But I-?"

"If you be wanting, but if so, must stay frosty."

"Oh, I'm already frozen."

"He means stay calm," I translated. I frowned as some bandits got a little closer. "Gregor, if he tries, he's your responsibility. I don't know how to keep an eye on someone like him."

"That be fine, for I have done so many times before," Gregor agreed. He laid a hand on Donny's shoulder. "But only if you be willing, wee one."

"I… er…" Donny began. He opened and closed his mouth a few times before nodding. "I… yes. Please. These are my people. I hate… only being able to run away."

"Good." Gregor passed Donny one of his swords, and showed him quickly how to hold it. "Hold like me. Swing like me. Kestrel's style too dodgy and countery for you."


"They're almost on us," I whispered. I drew my own sword, and looked to Gregor and Donny. Gregor looked ready; Donny looked ready to be sick. "He's yours. And they're ours."

I fell on the first one easily, catching them completely off-guard. Gregor and Donny worked together on the second, but I didn't stick around to see if it worked out. Instead, I darted down another alley and made my way towards the Town Hall, the largest building in the village. The bandits here weren't particularly skilled or anything, it seemed. They were just clever enough to wait until the snows made it hard for help to come. Except, of course, us Shepherds, who were more than willing to mobilize to thank the Khans for their assistance.

I made it to the Town Hall long before Gregor and Donny, and I slipped in through an open window, wondering how long I should wait. I knew that I didn't want to liberate the villagers alone, but at the same time, I didn't want to wait too long. The longer we waited, the greater the chances of a hostage situation. I didn't want that, and not just because hostage situations sucked. I wasn't sure how much another hostage situation would shake up the others. So, carefully, I picked my way to the main part of the Town Hall, wondering what, exactly, I should do.

"Careful, big boy. Prices aren't the only things I can cut in half." Of course, I hadn't expected a fancily dressed redhaired lady snarking at a bandit when I arrived. But I couldn't complain. "Just leave the nice people be, okay?" the lady commented. She held a steel sword in a reverse grip, bringing the blade flat against her arm, and she stood protectively in front of some of the other villagers.

"Why is a merchant holding a sword anyway?" the bandit complained. He growled and leaned down to snag one of the villagers. The girl, however, glared, and he leaned back, intimidated. I wondered why, but then noticed there was a dead bandit already on the ground. Clearly, the girl had already proven her words. "I mean…"

"Depends on where you go." The girl shrugged, and I decided to use her as a distraction to get close. "Round here, there's not much, but other countries have merchants knowing bows and lances among other things." The girl's eyes darted towards me, but I smiled and she subtly nodded and kept on talking. "Different places are fun like that."

"Bah!" The bandit spat, almost on a villager. I was almost behind him. "You'd make a good price if you weren't so cheeky."

"Now, now, big boy." The girl grinned. "I'm expensive~ And you couldn't afford me even if you lived thirteen lives."


"Unlucky thirteen. And you are very, very unlucky."

"Hu-ugh…" That little moan was the last thing he ever said, as I'd stabbed him through the back. He dropped like a stone, and I kicked him off the blade.

I rolled him a bit to try and keep the blood away from the villagers. Then I looked up at the girl, who wore a very distinctively smirk. "Merchant girl?" I asked. She nodded. "Well, part of the reason we're here is to save you, but it feels a little silly now."

"Aw, don't sweat it, gorgeous," the girl chirped. Her smirk widened, and the villagers began looking a little hopeful. "Most merchants would face trouble. I'm one of the few in my family that knows how to fight." She winked. "It's super sweet that you worry about strangers. That sweetness is needed in this world. So, what say we open up a few more rogues and then we'll split the loot they had?"

"After giving some to the villagers to help them repair." It was hard not to laugh as she playfully pouted before nodding. "Thief, then?"

"Locksmith, thank you. Rogue or lock, I'll have it smiling wide in a trice." Her grin widened. "Speaking of rogues, though… mind teaming up? I didn't want to liberate the place alone, even with them being all weak and all."

"What a coincidence. I was worried about the same." I smiled back and brought my sword up as another bandit rushed in. He blinked slowly, jaw dropped. "Shall we?"

"Let's~" She giggled. "It's Anna, by the way. You?"

"Kestrel, of the Ylissean Shepherds." My smile grew. "Let's get everyone liberated in time for supper."

"On it~!"

"So, we kill some bandits, protected some villages, got a morale boost, and got two more members," I summarized neatly. We dealt with all the bandits in record time, freed all the hostages, and returned in triumph. So now, I was sprawled out on Chrom's bed, reading through some history books Maribelle recommended. Supposedly, as… as 'queen', I'd be expected to have a lot of this memorized. She and Cordelia were already plotting ways to teach and test me. I didn't need foresight to know that I was going to spend a lot of time buried in books these next few weeks. "Why are they coming with us?"

"Donnel wants to learn how to be stronger and thinks we'll be good for training," Chrom absently explained. He was at his desk, frowning over some paperwork. "Anna thinks it'll simply be safer with us, given the Risen and the war. She's promised to secure us discounts on supplies."

"Oh, that'll be good."

"Yeah." Chrom sighed and then suddenly stood, stumbling over to the bed and flopping on it, cuddling into me. "Mmm… warm…"

"Move your head." I lifted my arm so that he could slide into my side. "I'm trying to read."

"Meh…" Still, he did shift a little lower. "Shouldn't you take a break?"

"I will when I finish this chapter. I have a lot to learn."

"Including how to take breaks, apparently." He reached up and caressed my cheek. "Your eyes are puffy. You've been staying up." He shifted again, this time to pluck the book from me, mark the page, and then set it to the side. "Break now."

"Hold on a-!" I squeaked when Chrom wrapped his arms around me and dragged me down, tugging the blanket over both of us. "Chrom, Maribelle is going to scold me!"

"Blame me. I'll be sure to inform Lissa she's making you overwork."

"Don't do that." I huffed, pouting, and he simply smiled and pulled me a little closer. "...I have been staying up…"

"You and Robin are workaholics. It's kind of amusing."

"We both just want to do what we can to make sure no one questions you and the Shepherds." My voice sounded tiny to me, so I ducked my head. "We… I mean… regardless of everything, Chrom, you all gave us a home. Robin doesn't remember, consciously, but we haven't had one in a while. When Mother died, we had no one. We had to stay away from people. So…"

"You two don't need to overwork to prove how amazing you are. You do that by nature." He kissed the top of my head. "Maybe I should set up some sort of 'compliment Kes and Robin' event."

"Please don't. We'll die of embarrassment." I went red just thinking about it.

"Well, maybe not then." He tilted my face up and kissed me gently, a nice little kiss that made me feel very warm and tingly, just like a stereotypical kiss from one of my romance novels. But nicer, because it was real and mine… "Hey, if you don't mind a change in subject?"

"Kiss me again, and I think I'll let you get away with that."

"Gladly." The next kiss was a little fiercer, and he looked a little smug when he pulled away. I batted at his shoulder and he laughed. "But, in all your travels, have you ever been to Ylisse's Spring Festival?"

"That's the one where you decorate eggs and dress up in colorful clothes and rabbit costumes, right?" I smiled and shook my head. "No, Robin and I never went. We heard about it, and thought it might be fun, but we worried that our father's people would attack during one."

"It's one of my favorite festivals. It'll probably be held late this year, since Emm…" His smile faltered, and I rested my hand on his cheek. He closed his eyes and leaned into it briefly. "The festival should still be fun, though. We could make it your official debut."

"Dressed up and painting eggs?" I laughed, amused by the idea. "Why not? It sounds silly."

"Meaning you should laugh a lot, I hope." He smiled again, but it was tinged with a bit of sadness. "Emm would've had fun with it. She loved that festival too."

"Then we must have twice as much fun, for her."

"Yeah…" He sighed and pulled me closer. "I'm so tired…"

"Then sleep, silly."

"Mmm…" His face screwed up like he wanted to protest, but he shrugged and closed his eyes. Before long, his breathing had evened out, and his grip on me loosened slightly in slumber.

I watched him sleep for a while before moving to sit up, kissing his cheek gently before retrieving my book and reading. I wanted to at least finish this chapter, after all. The sooner I did, the more time I had to commit it to memory.

Maribelle had threatened to make the next test the hardest yet. I wanted to be ready.

Notes on Gregor:

Class - Mercenary; Reclass - Barbarian, Myrmidon

An older mercenary with an accent no one ever seems to figure out, known for his incredible skill in combat and his kind and wise words. He and Basilio are old friends and rivals.

Skilled and strong, though his age and long years of fighting have slowed him some, since the body remembers all the injuries forced on it. However, that has simply taught him patience to strike where it hurts.

Seriously, no one knows where he's from, and he tells a story every time. For all anyone knows, 'Gregor' might not even be his real name, and for all his jokes, it's clear that he has had a hard life. However, it's tempered him into someone willing to give aid where needed.

Chapter Text

Winterlude 2 - Changes

With two new members, we make our preparations and continue training and planning. Winter's end is creeping ever closer, and as soon as we're certain the blizzards are done, we're marching to war again. Everything is focused on that. Everyone looks forward to that day.

I try to remind people rest is a thing. Somehow, I've become the official nag of the Shepherds, taking over even for Frederick. It's a weird feeling.

"The more I study, the more I feel like I'm not suited for this," I groaned, dropping my book in my lap. It was a book of 'etiquette' and gods above, there were too many rules. "Why so many things for flowers?"

"The language of flowers is a wondrous thing!" Virion laughed. He was helping me today, and I swore it was only because of him that I didn't just chuck the book out the window. He made it fun. "It allows for such subtle conversations!"

"There's too many."

"It also shows supreme attentiveness. It takes a lot of research and time to perfectly craft a message in a bouquet."

"Why would anyone give me flowers?"

"Well, those who wish to admire you, of course!" He gestured dramatically, nearly falling out of his chair, and I did have to laugh at his silliness. "And, of course, those who will want to insult you without raising the ire of your defenders, or send you into a scandal." He sighed and settled back proper and sipped on his tea. "Unfortunately, my dear, Chrom is quite the political catch. You will have people who hate you on principle."


"That said, you also have many allies, some of which are particularly high ranked, or will be once this war is over." He smiled gently at me and gestured to the cup of tea cooling in front of me. "But I do believe you're far overdue for a break, my dear."

"Maybe…" I sighed, and leaned back in my chair, letting the sunshine wash over me. He and I were in some study in the castle, nice and quiet. "The blizzards are calming."

"True. We're fast approaching the end of winter." Virion laughed, but there was a distinct edge of sadness to it. "This used to be one of my favorite times of the year."

"Really?" I paused, trying to remember, and then realize what he was talking about. "Oh, the Winter's End Festival. It's something all of Valm celebrates."

"Yes, it was a celebration of the spring that was to come." He looked out the window too, smiling nostalgically. "My sister, Cassandra, would make new clothes every year for it. We'd hold tournaments and games for three full days, and then on the evening of the third, we'd sing..."

"You'd sing 'Heritors of Arcardia'. I know it." It was said to be written by the 'Shadow of the Empress', a dancer said to be Empress Celica's best friend and confidant. The rumors also said she was the sister to the 'Shadow of the Emperor', a powerful saint. Not that there was much more known, of course. The Unification War had occurred about a year after the War of Shadows, after all. "The one said to be sung from the Mother Mila's point of view."

"Yes, the Earth Mother who provided us food. In the summer, we'd hold the Summer's End festival to celebrate the War Father, Duma." He laughed bitterly. "Though, I imagine many have switched to calling him 'Demon' or 'Fell' Father. Walhart does not fight for his banner, of course. The man denounces gods. But there are many who compare him unfavorably to King Rudolf, who did."

"I always heard conflicting reports on King Rudolf."

"Well, he was a complicated man. But stories favor the simplistic interpretation." Virion sipped his tea again. "Walhart might be similarly complicated, but his methods are crude and bring much suffering."

"I suppose." I looked down at my mug and then back at him. "He denounces the gods, though?"

"Yep. It's part of his recruitment slogan." He said the words dryly. "'Join me and live in a world ruled by man alone!' or something. I don't know if he believes it, or if he is purposely invoking Saint-King Alm I in an attempt to sway more people."

"Well, if the stories are true, he did kill the gods to save the people from their madness." At the same time, though, I couldn't imagine 'a world ruled by man alone'. Grima's claws hung over my shoulders even now. "Still, I don't see why we can't throw a little festival ourselves. If you know the music, I could even sing the song."

"Really?" Virion's eyes lit up at that. "Yes, I've played in the festival numerous times. I know it by heart."

"In that case, let's go over the lyrics to make sure I remember it. I've only heard it a few times, after all."

And so the two of us happily began plotting a small little performance, with tentative plans to ask Olivia if she wanted to dance too. Just a little something to focus on besides lessons, and a little bit of home for Virion. We both needed it.

"So, why is it, exactly, that you want to learn swords from me, Cordelia?" I asked as she, Sumia, and I walked through the slushy gardens to cool off from weapons practice. "You're not planning on using them from a pegasus, right?"

"Why not?" Cordelia asked in return. She reached around me help Sumia steady herself. "They do in the history books, and it'll give an advantage against the axe-wielding wyvern riders of Plegia."

"My fighting style, which relies on dodging and countering, and is perhaps a touch acrobatic, is not suited for fighting. Though, it is suited to your height I suppose." I paused, realizing something as I looked between the three of us. "Hey, you're the shortest of us, and Sumia is the tallest."

"I honestly think that's why Sumia trips so much. You should've seen her when she was younger. All limbs."

"That does make some sense."

"I'm right here!" Sumia protested, turning pink. She sulked at both of us. "Meanies."

"We're just commenting that you're the tallest of us three," I teased, patting her back. She sighed. "You're also the biggest of us when it comes to boobs."

"I… they're not that big!"

"Maybe, but you've definitely got the biggest cup size."

"Well, you can have some!"

"C-Can we not talk about this?" Cordelia squeaked. Now her face was red, and I couldn't help but laugh. "We're off topic."

"The topic being that I highly doubt my style will work for a flier," I pointed out with a shrug. All three of us managed to slip in some slush right then, and it was only thanks to some lucky twists we managed to not all fall. Of course, the three of us had a good laugh about it. "Honestly, Cordelia, a flying healer sounds infinitely more useful."

"That's true. I just worry because my aptitude for magic has always been low…"

"You only need a little magic to heal, from my understanding. And even a little bit of healing can tip someone away from death."


"You're just frustrated because you know you'd never be the best at it," Sumia teased. Cordelia grimaced, proving her right. "You don't need to be absolutely amazing at everything, silly. What's that saying? 'Jack of all trades, master of none'?"

"'But infinitely better than master of one'," Cordelia instantly retorted, pouting. "Everyone always forgets the last part."

"Well, you don't have to worry about that, and there's only so much of you to go around. When was the last time you and I just went on a relaxing ride anyway?"

"Er… uh…"

"Too long, clearly," I deadpanned. Cordelia coughed to try and hide her embarrassment, while Sumia giggled. "Whatever. Sumia, what are your plans? You seem to be studying with Miriel a lot."

"Yeah!" Sumia replied, laughing. She smiled brightly, lighting up her whole face. "Maybe I'll ditch the lance and just do tomes and staves!"

"So, basically, you want to be a flying Valkyrie."

"W-well, maybe?" She shrugged. "I'm just better with magic, I think. What about you? Are you going to take up a second weapon?"

"No idea. I've only ever had the money for one, so having the option of more is… interesting and not something I ever considered. Definitely not going the magical route, though." I shuddered at the thought. I hated the idea of fighting solely with magic, like my father. "Should I take suggestions from others?"

"Maybe! Maybe a bow!"

"Why a bow?"

"Because they're elegant!"

"Now you sound like Virion."


A little bit of swaying in the corner of my eye, followed by a dull 'thwump' sound and fluttering red. That was all the warning we had before Cordelia suddenly fainted on us.

"I-I'll get someone!" Sumia yelped, taking off quickly. She slid on some slush and fell flat on her face, but pushed herself up and kept on going. I saw her fall once more before she disappeared around a corner. I worried she'd knock herself out, before shaking my head and turning to Cordelia.

I rolled Cordelia on her back and moved her legs into my lap to elevate her legs. I checked to make sure she was breathing, and brushed her hair out of her face, noticing how clammy she was. Her skin was noticeably paler, and her eyes were puffy. She'd been overworking. I wondered if it was to escape the pain of seeing all her fellow knights die twice.

Pounding footsteps made me look up, and I saw Frederick running down the path. He stopped briefly to catch a trailing Sumia as she almost fell again before kneeling next to me. "Any signs of trauma or injury?" he asked me, voice a little shaky from panting. He relaxed when I shook my head. "So…?"

"I think she's just exhausted," I replied. I helped Frederick pick her up and stood, smiling softly. "Something tells me she's been letting her perfectionistic tendencies get carried away to escape nightmares, but I could be wrong."

"I see." He nodded. "I'll get her to Princess Lissa or Maribelle, then."

"Not Libra?"

"Libra, I know, is busy tending to Donnel at the moment." He smiled kindly and I laughed. "I'll be sure to send a message if something differs."

"Thank you." I waved him goodbye and turned my attention to Sumia, intending to reassure her. However, I noticed Sumia's attention was on Frederick's back, and while I thought it could just be worry of Cordelia, she was definitely pink in the face. Now, granted, that pinkness could've been from falls or the cold, but I couldn't help but wonder...

"Hey, Sumia?" I called. I nudged her to catch her attention and nodded to Frederick, silently asked. She went a little pinker and smiled, but shrugged a little. "So…?"

"I might be falling," she whispered. Her smile was shy. "I certainly admire him greatly. I always have. And he's very kind, very attentive…"

"Has a nice butt."

"Has a nice… Kestrel!" She went bright red and I laughed, unable to help it. "W-well, is it nicer than Chrom's?"

"I'm biased. I can't answer that properly."

"You're horrible." She made a face, and I laughed again. It wasn't long before she laughed with me. "Regardless, I might be. I don't know. I'll see what happens. For now, I'm content being near him. Besides…" Her cheer faded. "I know he's hurting still. What I really want is for him to smile and laugh."

"Then stay with him. No one can be sad for long when you're with them." I linked my arms around hers and smiled. "And if you do decide you like him, let me know. I'll… do what I can to help out. Like you helped me."

"Really?" She giggled and leaned into me. "Well, maybe teach me how to cook so that I don't burn everything!"

"Sure, we'll start now."

Later, we had to explain to Flavia why the kitchens were a mess, between our laughing and her clumsiness, but Sumia and I did successfully bake cookies together without a single burnt one. I called it a rousing success.

"Cordelia works way too hard!" Lissa complained. She and I were having tea a few days after Cordelia's fainting spell. "Oh, if only I was as good at scolding as Libra…!" She sulked, puffing her cheeks in indignation. "Ugh!"

"The last I saw, he had gotten through to her and was working with her," I pointed out with a small smile. I poured some cups of tea for us, and felt nervous. It was my first time really 'serving' tea to anyone. "I… ah… hope you like?"

"Oh, don't fret so much. I'm not picky." She smiled reassuringly at me. "I heard Maribelle is really running you through the paces, though!"

"There's a lot to learn." I hovered my hand over my cup to check how warm it was. "I'm in way over my head."

"Meh, you'll be fine. Remember, Chrom fell in love with you. Don't try to be anyone you're not." She grinned. "We love you too. And we all thought you'd be a nice queen before the lessons."

"For reasons I still don't get why."

"That's fine. I like that you do it without thinking." She giggled and I barely checked the urge to sigh. It really did confuse me. "Anyway…"

"You had wanted to talk to me about something." It was safer to just change the subject. "What about?"

"Oh. That." Her cheer faded and she glanced to the side briefly. "It's… well… it's about what Chrom mentioned. About me getting a l-lover…" She fiddled with her mug. "You probably haven't noticed, and I know for a fact Chrom hasn't because he's super oblivious. But I… I do have a crush, actually."

"Really?" I smiled encouragingly at her. "Who?"

"Lon'qu." She smiled wryly at my incredulous stare. "He's really nice once he lets you near. Plus, you know, he guards Maribelle and I a lot due to us being healers." She looked down, and I decided to wait for her to continue. I wasn't sure what to say or do. The most time I'd spent with Lon'qu was when we cooked together. I still had my own issues getting close to people, and so did he. "But the thing is… is that I know Maribelle loves him too."

"I… can imagine that would be awkward." I winced, thinking of how horrible I'd felt when I'd realized Sumia and I loved the same person. "Do you plan on telling her?"

"Nope." Her words were surprisingly firm. "You're the only person who's going to know. Don't tell anyone."

"Are you sure?"

"Yep." She looked up at me, and managed a smile. She looked ready to cry despite it, though. "See, I know Maribelle. If I show any interest, she'd back away." She moved her mug to the side a bit and rested her arms on the table. "That's just how she is. My happiness is more important than hers, in her eyes." She sighed, resting her face in her arms. "So… yeah. If you can subtly get Chrom to not tease me like that?"

"Are you sure you won't tell Chrom directly?"

"No way! He's a boy!" She lifted her head to pout and I just had to laugh. "You don't tell boys stuff like this!" Her pout softened for a smile. "Thank you, by the way."


"One, for listening. I've been sitting on it for ages."

"Well, of course I'll listen. And I won't tell. Promise."

"Yay~" She straightened in her seat. "For two… thank you for making Chrom happy. He smiles a lot. I'm glad." She picked up her mug again, and this time, sipped it. "When I was bawling about Emm, he wouldn't let himself cry. He just held and supported me. Because that's how he is. Chrom is my annoying protective, dorky, sweet big brother. I'm happy he's happy. I hope, one day, I get to be happy in the same way, but you know, I'm pretty happy in general." She hopped to her feet suddenly and stretched her hands above her head. Like she had to move to prove her words to herself. "My sister is dead, and I'll never get her back. I've seen people die left and right, and I'll never get their screams out of my head. But I have all these friends willing to help me. I have my brother. There's that stupid war, of course, but…"

"I understand, I think." I smiled back, laughing a little. All things considered, I was very happy too. "Still, don't force yourself to be happy."

"I won't." She giggled and took a sip of her tea. "Oh, wow, this is so good, Kestrel!"

"Is it? Good!" I breathed a sigh of relief. "Regardless, that sounds like a good point for a subject change. How goes your axe training?"

"It sucks, but I'm improving!" And Lissa babbled about her training, and I listened attentively, making sympathetic noises when appropriate.

I thought that was more of what she'd needed. She no longer had Emmeryn to 'consult' for big sister things. She… wanted to know if she could do the same with me, and I hoped I was up for it. I really did like her.

"You know… this started as something small," I complained as Maribelle brushed out my hair. She had a bunch of hairpins in her mouth, though I wasn't sure what for. "Very small."

"Well, darling, Basilio decided it would be good for the troops," Maribelle replied. It was remarkably how coherent she was with those hairpins. "Hold your head still."

"Sorry." I sighed, and closed my eyes, to exasperated by all of this. "We didn't even tell him. He eavesdropped."

"To be fair, you and Olivia were discussing it in a public space." And that was exactly what had turned this simple performance into a grand thing for the troops. A day or so after I'd talked to Lissa, I'd been asking Olivia how she knew a Valmese dance (she learned it from traveling dancers), and Basilio had jumped into the conversation from there. "Head. Still."

"Sorry." So, instead of just wearing my normal clothes, I had to get 'dressed up'. Thank the gods I had Maribelle to worry about it for me, as I had no idea about any of the colors. "Who is handling Cordelia and Olivia again?"

"Sumia and Lissa. Gaius is helping Virion and Stahl. Mostly Stahl." There was a tap sound, like she'd set something down. "I'm so glad we can hear Cordelia play again. She played for Chrom's last birthday, you see." There was a tug on my hair. "I'm surprised Stahl is so good, though. He must've practiced quite a bit."

"I still feel bad they got strongarmed into playing with us." I wasn't sure Basilio had given them a choice once he 'happened to overhear' them practicing. They'd barely had a few days to learn the music for this! "I'd planned on this being relaxing."

"Well, it'll be relaxing for the audience." Little pinpricks hit my scalp and I had to resist the urge to squirm. "I still can't believe Anna managed to get us so many nice clothes on such short notice."

"It feels weird."

"That's just because you're not used to wearing such fancy clothes, darling. I assure you; it suits you beautifully. I would've made you change if not." She tugged some strands of hair by my face. "Open your eyes, darling."

"Must I?" I resisted the urge to groan and did as she asked. I caught sight of my reflection, though, and turned away. I caught a brief glimpse of how she had my hair pinned up, with little ringlets by my face. That was it. "Eyes are open."

"You should see yourself."

"I hate my reflection. I see my father in me."

"...Ah." She reached around and dragged some sort of scarf across the mirror, blocking it. "In that case, look at me." She stepped to my side, and I looked up at her, touched that she'd just… went with it. "Yes, that'll do. You look lovely, darling."

"I'll take your word for it." I stood up slowly, and grimaced at how my dress swished about my legs. It was greens and golds, with no sleeves and a very long skirt. "This feels weird."

"You're just not used to it. But the dresses tailored for you can be made more subtle and simple." She smiled warmly and took my hands in hers. "I'll head out to the audience for now. Just think of this as practical application for the poise lessons we were going through."

"I'll try." I did manage to smile back, and she winked before skipping out of the 'dressing room'. I glanced around, noticing that I was the only one here, and heading out through a different door, towards the 'wings of the stage'.

The others smiled they saw me, with Stahl bowing and Virion giving me a wink. Cordelia, fully recovered though still a little pale, checked the tuning of her harp, while Olivia, dressed in a different dancer's costume than I'd last seen her in, was actually peeking out front. Morbidly curious, I leaned over her shoulder, and nearly whimpered when I saw how many people were gathered.

"I'm going to be sick," I whispered, stepping back. I tried to think of Maribelle's poise lessons, but they were drowning in the nausea. "Oh, no, I'm seriously going to be sick…"

"I know! There's a lot of people," Olivia murmured. Still she smiled gently at me, and took my hand. "B-but, once we start performing, it's not so bad. Mostly."

"...You're a professional."

"Yes, and I get nervous in front of crowds." She laughed softly and squeezed my hand. "But this time isn't so bad. We have friends with us."


"What I like to do is find people in the crowd that I don't mind dancing in front of and pretend I'm just dancing for them." She giggled. "Try that, okay?"

"...I will." I smiled back, still feeling ill, but strangely comforted. It was nice to know that she, a professional dancer, got nervous in front of crowds. "But we should probably go before we lose what little nerve we have."

"Yep~" She giggled again and waved to the others. "Gaius is going to announce us soon. Everyone ready?"

"Er… sort of?" Stahl replied. He laughed a little awkwardly. "My stomach is in knots. I should've eaten more."

"Just think of the feast we'll have afterwards," Virion suggested. He bowed with a little flourish to us. "We shall do marvelously. We did so in practice, after all."

"Practice is different."

"Not as much as you might think."

"Can we just do a group hug or something?" Cordelia asked. She smiled and held out her arms. "Come on. Hugs make everything better, right?"

Stifling laughter, we did just that, and at that moment, Gaius announced our performance to a loud bit of applause. We gave each other another hug before walking outside to even greater applause. We all took some time to get settled, mostly adapting our 'practice seating arrangements' to a slightly larger stage. My vision tunneled as I looked out over the crowd, and I quickly tried to hunt for people I knew, just like Olivia had suggested.

I found the Shepherds easily. There were right in front, and the ones who caught my eye grinned at me. Maribelle, in fact, gave me a warm and approving smile before pointing in front of her, to where Chrom and Robin were sitting, right in front with Flavia and Basilio. Both of them were beaming at me, and I did feel my nerves ease at all the smiles. I still felt ill, but it was no longer a huge obstacle.

I glanced at the others, waiting for Virion and Olivia to nod, and then opened my mouth to sing. It was soft at first, because of my nerves, but as I continued to sing, I managed to strengthen my voice a little more. Virion, Cordelia, and Stahl matched their volume to mine, as if it was something we planned. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Olivia dance, scarves swirling about her almost like wings, and I took courage from that to sing louder and fuller. By the time I reached the last verse, I'd forgotten all my nervousness. Instead, I just gave myself to the performance. After all, I had people cheering me on. I could make it.

" And though I am gone, just ash in the wind~ One life surrendered, so yours can begin~ Courage, my children~! This is your song! I am the Earth; I will make you strong~!"

Notes on Libra:

Class - War Monk; Reclass - Mage, Dark Mage

The calm and caring bishop who is equally skilled with a staff and axe. He watches over all of us, but keeps his distant, like he's not sure whether or not we're trustworthy.

A very balanced fighter, filling almost any role, though not exceeding in it. It's almost like he puts on different masks to fit the situation.

He dislikes being touched, to the point of stiffening and shying away, suggesting some sort of past abuse. Also hinting to his darker past, as well as a broken present, is his aptitude for dark magic. But his kindness is no mask, whether he believes it or not.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12) Mad King Gangrel

The last of the snows melt, and we marched back to the border, intending on crossing into Plegia. New armor, new weapons… all of us are armored to the teeth and we make a rather impressive sight alongside the Feroxi soldiers. As we get closer to the border, our army grows and grows, and we're met with cheers by the civilians. We even meet some Ylisseans along the way, those determined to fight, even though their country has fallen.

This… is it. This is it. This war ends.

"So, this is my current strategy based on what we know," Robin finished, straightening. He'd been leaning over the map Cordelia and Sumia made for us, explaining the current battle plan to Chrom and me. "Any questions?"

"No, I think it's a good one personally," Chrom answered, smiling warmly at him. "To think that a simple walk through a meadow led to Lissa tripping over the best tactician in the lands."

"Praise me as that when this works. I'm nervous." Robin sighed, and looked to me shyly. I smiled warmly at him, proud, and he grinned, perfectly pleased. "Why isn't Frederick here again?"

"He's checking if there is new information, since Flavia and Basilio are camping with their troops instead of us." Chrom absently took my hand and tugged me a little closer to kiss my temple. "Just in case."

"Right, a numbers change could be detrimental." Robin smiled sweetly. "However, should I leave you two alone~?"

"Huh?" Chrom's expression blanked before he looked down at me in confusion. I pointed to our clasped hands and he blushed. "Oh."

"Gods, you're adorable." Robin laughed. "Good taste, dear sister."

"Oh, shut up," I sighed, scowling. He simply laughed more. "Regardless, why did you guys drag me into this again? I had planned on checking the supplies with Cordelia, and then making sure Maribelle had everything she and Lissa needed for the infirmary."

"Why, so that I could watch you two be adorable, of course," Robin instantly retorted. He even wore a bright grin. "Lissa says that as a sibling, it's my job to tease the living hell out of you both."

"…Oh, Robiiin~" I smiled, and his grin fell from his face. "I think the Shepherds should hear about some escapades from our childhood."

"That isn't fair at all. I don't remember them!"


"Come on! Not fair!"

"Too bad." I made for the entrance of the tent, but yelped as Robin caught me in a hug. "Hey!"

"Nope, nope! I'm protecting my reputation!" He laughed, dragging me backwards. I groaned, but let him. "Fine, fine, I'll time the teasing better. Happy?"


"You two are ridiculous," Chrom laughed. He smiled brightly at us, though there was some pain to it. He missed Emmeryn, and no doubt he wished he'd teased her more. "So…" There was a 'knock' on the tent flap, and it opened to reveal a stoic Frederick. "Ah, Frederick, anything?"

"Yes, we received a report from Khan Flavia," Frederick explained. He held himself strangely stiffly, and I stepped away from Robin, worried. "The Plegian Army…"

"Is there more numbers than anticipated?" Chrom asked softly. That was something we considered. We had no knowledge of how many Gangrel might conscript, after all. "In that case, Robin, we need to-"

"No, that's not it." Frederick shook his head. "The Plegian Army is actually in disarray."

Silence fell for a long moment as we tried to process the words. Even then, we couldn't quite, so Chrom asked, "…How do you mean?"

"Infighting, desertion, visible and loud protests against further violence…" He shrugged. "Gangrel stomps out the opposition with force, but with little success. If anything, it makes it worse. His army has all but collapsed. We are fighting him with three to one numbers, in our favor."

"…Seriously?" Chrom and Robin exchanged a look of confusion. "Why would they…?" Chrom trailed off though, and began to laugh, softly and bitterly. "No, I know. Emm. It's Emm, isn't it?"

"It is." Frederick relaxed slightly, smiling wanly. "Her name has become a rallying cry. Her sacrifice made her words ring true."

"They want peace. They wanted someone to acknowledge their pain. She saw that. No, she learned that." Chrom's head dropped, but it didn't hide the quiet tears slipping down his face. "Damn it, Emm. I can't even tell you that you were right." I reached up and wiped away the tears, and he smiled. "Sorry. That's…"

"What will you do, my lord?" Frederick's words were soft. "His army is in disarray. We have clear superiority now." But they were serious, and I realized now this was why he'd been stiff. "What will you do?"

"I…" Chrom hesitated, and looked down. Then he looked at the map, then at Robin, and then at me. After that, he closed his eyes, breathed in deep, and let out the breath slowly. "Send a messenger, Frederick. I will give him a chance to surrender."

"Are you certain, my lord?"

"Yes. It's… my compromise. Emmeryn would give him far more than one. My father gave Plegia none. I… will give him the one, as I did with Raimi, way back to when we first crossed the border." Chrom nodded, straightening his posture to look a little surer. A little more regal. "His reign ends. But I will give him a chance to surrender, and end it without further violence."

"Of course, my lord." Frederick bowed, smiling warmly. "I'll see to it at once."

"Let me come with, Frederick, to talk to the messenger," Robin requested. His eyes sparkled, even as he tried to look serious. "Just to get more information." Frederick nodded and held the tent flap open for him. "Thanks!" Robin bolted out the tent, and Frederick quickly followed.

I debated following, still surprised by the news. However, I noticed how Chrom looked conflicted, so instead, I moved to his side and caressed his cheek. "I'm proud of you," I murmured. He looked at me slowly, expression almost fragile. "I think it's good to give him a chance. But just the one. Any more, and he'll regroup."

"Yeah…" he sighed. But he relaxed and smiled. "Thanks, Kes."

"I'm simply stating the truth. Though, I'm pretty certain Gangrel will refuse it." I bit my lip, glancing at the map. "I'm also worried about Risen showing up."

"Robin's plan accounted for that."

"I can still worry."

"True." He sighed, rubbing his temple. "How late is it again?"

"Well, you two started this meeting after dinner. So, I imagine most people are going on watch or heading to bed. Will you do the same?"

"Bed sounds nice. At the least, I should probably relax. If Robin wants to continue the talks, he can just… send for me or something." He nodded to himself, paused, and then looked to me. "Say, Kes?"


"Do you mind spending the night with me, instead of going back to yours?"

"Uh…" My thoughts stopped for a brief moment, before the rest of me caught up and processed not only the words, but how he said them. And when I did, I decided to tease him, just a little. "So, Chrom, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and think you didn't quite realize the implications of what you said."

"Implications?" His expression blanked, proving me right, before he went apple-red as it clicked. "That… Uh… um… Oh, that wasn't what I meant." He ducked away, hiding his face with his hand, which did nothing to hide his blush. He was red all the way to his ears. "Ugh, great, now I sound like I'm coming on like a wyvern in heart… in heat… but I swear that wasn't… I mean…"

"…Well, it's not like I'd refuse even if it was." I said the words candidly, though I knew my own face went red. His went redder. "But we're going to war, and I imagine tiring ourselves out the night before a big battle isn't a good idea."

"N-no, it doesn't…" He glanced at me, smiling sheepishly. "I just… would like… ugh, I can't think of how to phrase this without-"

"Let me get a change of clothes, and if anyone sees, you're the one explaining." I grinned, and he made a face, but smiled. Both of us were still bright red. "I'll see you there. Okay?"

"Okay." He leaned down and kissed my cheek. "Thank you."

Gangrel didn't take the offer to surrender. We expected that, but it was disappointing to hear. The messenger, who had to be treated for injuries because Gangrel tried to kill the poor man, took all of it with surprisingly good humor and told us something interesting. Aversa had left the palace, as well as the Grimleal. While some might remain, it would be those who chose, and likely not very strong ones. Not ones who could summon the Risen.

"Anyone else feel like this isn't quite real?" Robin asked. We were standing on the edge of the battlefield, on a hill overlooking the Plegian soldiers. "Like this is some weird as hell dream?"

"Maybe a little," Chrom murmured. He, Robin, and I were standing in front of the Shepherds. "But, just a little."

"Stop trying to be cool in front of your girlfriend. My sister already knows how dorky you are."

"Hey!" Chrom scowled and Robin laughed. "Oh, whatever. We're ready."

"Yes, for a speech for inspiration!"

"I'm not doing a speech."

"Oh, come on. For inspiration!"

"You already said that, and I think the Shepherds have their own inspirations ready."

"Please?" Robin glanced at me. "You convince him."

"No, I won't force him to do what he doesn't want," I replied. Chrom sighed in relief while Robin groaned. I heard snickers from the Shepherds, and decided… decided to be mischievous. "Instead, I suppose I'll inspire our glorious leader." I brushed a kiss over Chrom's cheek, and both of us went red as someone, probably Vaike, loosed a wolf-whistle. "There. Inspiration to not die."

"…I can't lose," Chrom murmured. He grinned and leaned down to kiss me on the mouth. This time, there was clapping. I could hurt all of them; I was so mortified. "And you cannot die either. None of us will die." He turned to everyone and smiled. "Understand, Shepherds? I need all of you to survive this battle. I don't care how. Just survive, and then we'll rebuild Ylisse!"

"There's the speech!" Robin laughed, clapping. Chrom's smile faltered as he realized what just happened. "Now, let's win this!"

"…Yes. For our future, and the world we wish to live in." Chrom nodded once, and looked everyone in the eye. I glanced at everyone worriedly, particularly Olivia. She had wished to fight with us, as her Dancer's Gift could be useful, but she wasn't the best of fighters. "Shepherds…" Everyone tensed. Ready. Waiting. "CHARGE!"

Chrom, Robin, and I were the first ones to jump down, but that was less 'leaders by example' and more out of self-presevation. It was a lot easier for the horses to charge if the on-foot combatants were out of the way. We heard echoes of war cries and the quiet 'rumble' of other charges, showing the Feroxi soldiers had charged with us. Flavia and hers to our right. Basilio and his to our left. And we Shepherds in the center, because that's what Gangrel was. Dead center.

Gangrel saw us too, and charged with his own soldiers. And he headed straight for Chrom. "Good day, my little princeling!" he mocked, stopping just short. His smile was far too wide to be anything but 'mad'. "Still dreaming of your squashed sister?"

"I put my sister to rest, Gangrel," Chrom retorted coolly, also stopping. He glared, and brought his sword up. The rest of us kept on running, though both Robin and I slowed, worried. "But no more talk. You'll die here today, and peace will return to Ylisse and Plegia."

"Pah! Such hypocrisy!" Gangrel spat at Chrom's feet. "You despise me! You want to cut me down! You don't know the first thing about peace! Same as me!" He cackled suddenly. "Gods you are me! When life questions, you answer with blood!"

"Yes, I will never be my sister. I cannot forgive people like you. Were I alone, I would've become you, or my father. I am not so blind that I do not recognize this." Chrom smirked then. "But, I'm not alone. Unlike you, and unlike my father, I have my friends. So, I know I won't stray."

"What a flower harangue! I fear I might vomit." Gangrel snarled, lighting crackling along his sword. Levin Sword. "Men are beasts! We fight! We kill! We devour our prey! Just as your precious Holy Swordsman did when she led the purge of the Plegian Ghettos!"


"Beasts do not stand behind beasts, little prince! They use each other so long as it suits their own selfish purpose!"

"…I pity you." Chrom's smirk faded, and Gangrel's snarl dropped for shock. "I hate you. I despise you. But I pity you as well. You are nothing but madness, a poison. A festering wound, carved out by my father and Clara."

"Shut up, you little-"

"But if that is what you truly believe, then it is no wonder your soldiers refuse to stand with you. Enough with words, Gangrel. I am a warrior, same as you. And I will do what my sister could not."

"Such a clever tongue!" Gangrel lunged, striking wildly. "It will look quite fetching hanging on my mantle!"

Chrom, however, blocked the blade and shoved him off. "Then try to win it."

Part of me wanted to stay near, just in case, but I had other duties. Chrom could take care of himself. I had my own battles to fight. So, I turned away and fell on the closest soldier, beginning my own attack. Robin's plan relied on speed and strength. We were going to hit hard and fast. Break their guard, and make them yield. And I had my own part to play.

So, I fought. I blocked and countered. I stabbed and killed. All the while, I was well aware that this was with a 'weakened' force. But they fought like rabid animals, and I recognized why. They were in a corner. And you never backed a desperate enemy into a corner. Except we did, because that's what war was.

I focused mainly on the archers, worried for Cordelia and Sumia. They were dodgy, and fought well together, but Phila's death still haunted me. So, I made a point to pick them off, which bit me in the ass when a mage decided to target me. Fire crashed into my shoulder, and I automatically dropped my shoulder as my arm reacted to the pain. I twisted, eyes narrowed as I caught sight. I debated a few things, and then decided to scoop up a fallen bow and arrow and shoot. It went wide, and the bowstring caught awkwardly on my gauntlets, but it was enough to make them stumble, and it was enough for me to scoop up my sword again and charge, cutting them down. As I did, I noticed something that made me yelp. Olivia was surrounded. Holding her own, but surrounded.

I bolted for her, but slid in the sand and then had to shake the sweat from my eyes. The heat was beating down on us, and quite a few of the fighters had dropped from the heat. That left openings, and I was certain that was why Olivia was in danger in the first place. I had to get to her, but there were a lot of obstacles in the way.

"Damn, this is longer than I hoped." Something bumped into my back, and I almost attacked. But then I glanced over my shoulder, and saw white hair. "Kestrel," Robin called. "That you? Feels like you."

"You can tell it's me just by my back?" I teased, mostly to hide my worry. I could barely see Olivia now, but she looked injured. I thought I saw red, at least. "How long has it been?"

"Shorter than it feels, longer than I want. The sun is high in the sky, and we're reaching the hottest part of the day." He growled something, and I soon saw why. Enemy soldiers were surrounding us. "Gods, enough of this nonsense! We've got people we want to protect, and you're in the way."

"That they are." I sighed and shifted into a stance, wishing I had just a little more strength. "Oh well. We'll do this for our friends, right?"

"Right." There was… a strange spark to the air. A different sort of heat in my blood. "Now then…" Robin's brought his hand up, and I caught the edge of a spark and, strangely, of a fiery blossom. "Time to tip the scales!"

"Yes!" I prepared for a lunge, eyes narrowing at the solider in front of me. Strange purple-pink flames appeared along my blade, appearing like feathers falling from the sky. I should've been worried, but I… wasn't. Because there was something gentle to the flames despite their strangeness and darkness, like Mom's magic. "Let's hear your death rattle!"

The flames erupted around blade as I lunged and bit deep into the wound I left as I cut the soldier down. As they fell, the flames danced through the air, looking very much like soft feathers. Automatically, I reached up to snag one, and found it cool to the touch before disappearing. The rest floated into the sky, joining similarly colored 'flower petals'. I instinctively knew it was because of Robin, and turned to see he'd also dealt with one of the soldiers. The rest that had surrounded us decided to run, frightened. But Robin and I? We… well…

"THAT WAS SO COOL!" we chorused, grinning and laughing. A couple of people gave us weird looks, but we didn't care. "So cool, so cool!"

"But what was it?" Robin asked once the initial wave of giddiness faded. "I mean… there were flames, and then flowers and…"

"I have no idea," I admitted easily. I was still giggling, feeling like a child. But a scream reminded me I was on the battlefield, and why I'd been running this way in the first place. "Shit, Olivia!"

"I've got her!" And he was off, saving her, and I returned to my own fighting, pairing up with Gaius to deal with some particularly quick fighters. When that was done, I caught a ride with Sumia to drop me down near where Virion needed a guard, and I continued fighting there.

A bolt of lighting caught my attention, and both Virion and I jumped back as something flew past us. We stared in confusion at the strange sword, before I recognized it as a Levin Sword. Then I remembered who had a Levin Sword and turned to look. And there I saw Chrom and Gangrel in combat. Both were bleeding, but Gangrel was far worse off. He, after all, had Falchion through his gut.

A strange hush fell over the field as Chrom jerked the blade out, and Gangrel crumpled. Gangrel gasped and struggled to stand, but he just fell on his face. "F-fool… of a prince…" he coughed out. Blood speckled his chin and lips. "Your people care not for you… you are… alone…" He laughed, and it gurgled. "As every man lives and dies… alone."

"…I'm sorry you feel that way." Chrom brought the sword above his head and flipped it so that the blade pointed down. "But that's all the more reason to prove you wrong."

He stabbed down, right into Gangrel's throat. Gangrel's body jerked up briefly, before passing with a quiet 'gasp'.

Silence… silence… silence… and then, one by one, the other Plegian soldiers dropped their weapons and fell to their knees. Many sobbed. More screamed. But all of them acknowledged what it meant for Gangrel to fall.

The war… was over… It was actually over.

The aftermath involved a lot of blood, a lot of tears, and a lot of pain. We stole one of the nearby forts for our infirmary, and spent quite a bit of time gathering the wounded and tucking them inside, shielding them from the harsh desert sun. The battle hadn't lasted long. But it had been too long for quite a few of the Feroxi, used to colder climates, and for the barely trained Ylisseans who insisted on fighting. It felt like a long while before Flavia, Basilio, Robin, Chrom, and I could meet up in the courtyard and talk.

"The messenger just left," Robin explained. He had blood smeared across his face and staining his coat, and he was pale from a prior fainting spell. But other than that and the sweat, he looked fine. "Terse fellow."

"Well, he's on the losing side of this war, and worse, it's a war Plegia started," Flavia pointed out. She shrugged, and winced briefly. Only those subtle winces hinted she'd taken any damage. Well, that and her ponytail falling out. She otherwise looked as fresh as a daisy. "But at least it's finished. Once their messenger delivers our terms, that's it. We put an end to the bloody business." Flavia laughed unexpectedly, and reached up to fix her ponytail. "Shortest war I've ever fought. It's been what? Three battles?"

"More than that, but I think it's only two or three you directly fought," Chrom murmured. He sighed, and shook his head. He was in fresh clothes, but that was because his shirt had gotten stained beyond repair after a particularly bad wound in the infirmary stressed and ruptured a major artery. His face was scrubbed pink. "Strange. We won, but I don't feel like celebrating."

"Victories in war tend to be bittersweet, boy," Basilio explained. He smiled kindly and patted Chrom's shoulder. Unlike the rest of us, he seemed completely unwounded and untouched by the fighting. I was certain it was just because he was amazing at hiding it. "Which one weighs more all depends on context. It's good to learn that early. Keeps you from becoming a warmonger."

"I see…" Chrom sighed. "How many dead?"

"Regna Ferox lost a good number of soldiers, unfortunately," Flavia answered. She grimaced and rolled her shoulder; she'd strained it. "Not as many as feared, but certainly more than we're used to. We need to see to our dead. Then to the living."

"I'm sorry," Chrom whispered. He looked down, and I knew why. A lot of Ylisseans had died today too. Somehow, the Shepherds escaped unscathed, though we had some near misses with Ricken and Donnel. "Ylisse will compensate-"

"Oh, don't fuss about finances, though if you really feel bad, you can give up the Fire Emblem?" She grinned, and winked as Chrom frowned. "Sorry. I wanted to get that sad look off your face. Reparations fall to Plegia for this, and don't fret. I've seen the treasury. They can well afford it."

"Yes, pity the man who stands between Flavia and a full coffer, boy," Basilio joked. There was a serious to his face, though, that implied he was also serious. "It'll be fine."

"If you feel so bad, Chrom, you can cut some of the reparations we receive to be funneled to Ferox," I pointed out. I rested a hand on his shoulder and smiled. I knew I looked like a mess, but hopefully, no one cared. I'd been helping in the infirmary, after all. "If I recall correctly, Ylisse never gave reparations to Plegia when the war ended. So, take less."

"That's true. And if they ask, you can say it's the reparations Ylisse should've given. Now, granted, I don't think your coffers could afford it then, but the gesture is there."

"And, more to the point, you're prove yourself different." I squeezed his shoulder. "It'll be harder to recover, but we can make that effort, right? To make it a little easier to repair the trust between Plegia and Ylisse?"

"Listen to you two, being all political." Basilio suddenly laughed, grinning. "But, come on. Instead of us yammering on and on, Chrom, shouldn't you be giving your bride a victory kiss?" He laughed more as Chrom and I both went bright red. Flavia and Robin joined in on the laughter. "Come here, Robin. You can serve as his representative while those two have a moment."

"We can go get Lissa too," Robin suggested. He was already walking off, with a snickering Flavia following. "That way we'll have a royal viewpoint."

"Hold on a moment!" Chrom protested. However, all three of them continued on, waving. "That's… uh…"

"Honestly, these people," I grumbled, facepalming. This was ridiculous. "It's not like our wits have left us."

"Well, I am madly in love with you." He grinned brightly at my scowl. "So, less reparations."

"It was just a suggestion." I shrugged. "You could also just take it and give it to Ferox."

"No, I like it." He ran a hand over my hair, lingering on where blood had caked in. "I do value your insight, you know."

"I'm still not used to being a leader, though." I sighed, feeling blue suddenly. "I lock up. It's easier when it's just me and you."

"You'll get better in time. And I'll be learning how to be an Exalt beside you. I thought it would be ages before I inherited, after all." He continued stroking my hair, eyes a little distant. "You know…"


"It occurred to me, while I was fighting Gangrel…" His hand fell to mine and he took it gently. "We've all been assuming… but I never formally asked."

"Formally asked what?"

"This." He lifted my hand and deliberately kissed my ring finger. My thoughts stopped. "Kestrel, you are the wind at my back, and the sword at my side. So much a part of me that I can barely remember what life was like without you. Though I dragged you into a war…"

"That I chose to fight. Believe me; I know how to run. I… chose not to." I smiled gently at him. "I chose to stand my ground, for once. I'm glad."

"As I am. So…" His face went a little red. "Will you marry me?"

"Of course." Now my face went red, and I laughed. "Oh, wow, you're right. You never did formally ask. We just…"

"Assumed. But I wanted to be proper. I wished I had a ring for you, though."

"I don't need a ring. I have you."

"You…" He laughed softly and then leaned in, kissing me fiercely. "You are too wonderful. I am the happiest man alive, right now."

"And I, the happiest woman." I laughed, and kissed him back. And then I realized something. "Oh, wait, seriously, Chrom? I look like a complete mess, and you propose formally now?"

"Why not? You're sweaty and gross from helping people." He grinned, and I huffed, looking away. "Besides, it's not like I looked much better before I scrubbed."

"But you still did!" I sighed, feeling grumpy. "Horrible timing."

"I'm sorry."

"You are not."

"No, I'm not, because you said 'yes'." He laughed, and I relented. "I'll be sure to give you the ring when you're nice and clean, though."

"You're horrible." I made a face, and he laughed again. "Well, I suppose it doesn't matter. We have a lot of work ahead of us."

"Yes, we must see to our people." He cupped my face and smiled. "But we'll do it together, my love. We'll build a peaceful world."

"We will. That's a promise."

He kissed me again, and no small part of me felt guilty. My… my very presence threatened that peace he wanted. But I closed my eyes and let myself enjoy the kiss. I wanted to be happy. Couldn't I be happy, just for a bit? I hoped so. Gods, I hoped so.

Notes on Tharja

Class – Dark Mage; Reclass – Knight, Archer

A dark mage from Plegia, skilled with curses, who joined the Shepherds because she disliked Gangrel. Cold, but with a quite kindness to her. If you get close enough.

Skilled in the art of Dark Magic, with the power to back it up, though she does have some difficulties with accuracy. Like most with dark magic, she trained more for survivability; dark magic can kill the caster if you're not careful.

Has a crush on Robin, to the point that it's almost… creepy. Robin, either because he is oblivious or has no context due to amnesia, seems to just laugh it off. Others, though, try to divert her attentions away. She seems to be genuinely close to Gaius, though.

Chapter Text

Interlude – Betrothed

Gangrel is dead. We linger in Plegia to make sure of it, and to assist in initial repairs. Then we briefly returned to Regna Ferox to recuperate before marching to Ylisstol, to deal with the stranglers of the Plegia army. Most of them surrendered on sight, and the people greet Chrom with cheers and laughter. However, that cheer is tempered by the sorrow of losing Emmeryn, and the uncertainty for what's to come. Fortunately, they cheered back up pretty quickly. Unfortunately, they did so because some maids caught Chrom and me kissing, and rapidly spread the word that Chrom had a fiancé. Me.

Oh, I feel like all my trouble is just staring…

"Why is there so much… everything?" I groaned, wanting to just flop to the floor and lie there. Only the fact that Maribelle was here stopped me. "So much…"

"What is there too much of, darling?" Maribelle asked. She was frowning over some papers at a table. "If it's the room, this is just yours until you marry Chrom. Then you'll share."

"I've actually managed to get used to large rooms thanks to you crazy lot." I eyed the large pile of clothes on the bed warily. I was in the middle of trying to 'properly' hang them in the closet. The far too large closet. "Everything else? Not so much."

"Hmm? Oh, those are just some things for the next few months. You'll get properly measured and the like for proper clothes later." She gestured to the other chair at the table. "Sit, darling. The maids will be by later to hang them up."

"Why are there so many?" I whimpered as I sat down, doing my best to not think of how much it all cost. "And how do I pay for it?"

"You're marrying the Exalt of Ylisse. Chrom pays."

"We're recovering from a war!" And I was more or less certain some of those dresses could've bought food for a family of six for a month. Plus, Chrom was in the middle of dealing with the nobles who'd betrayed Emmeryn during the assault on Ylisstol. I'd rather be helping him with that, not dealing with… clothes… "Ah… I don't get any of this…"

"…" Maribelle looked up and smiled softly at me. "That's okay, Kestrel. You'll get used to it."

"I'm not so sure." Moving into the castle, as Chrom's fiancé, had been as disorienting as a bucket of ice water to the face in the middle of winter. There were people always trying to talk to me, or trying to ask my opinion on something, or trying to serve me something. "Damn it. I knew the two of us should've moved into the room, but the hallway had been empty…"

"The people are wonderfully happy that Chrom has a fiancé." She went back to her papers, frowning at them. "It gives them an excuse to celebrate, especially since Emmeryn's funeral had been…"

"Yeah…" Flavia had arranged for Emmeryn's body to be returned to Ylisstol, and we had a proper funeral for her. Three days later, Chrom and I'd kissed in the hallway after I'd cheered him up, and now, I was stuck in all this mess far earlier than Chrom and I had planned. "What are you even working on?"

"Hmm? Oh, I'm going over potential names for your ladies in waiting."

"Oh." I vaguely remembered reading about 'ladies in waiting' during all the lessons she and Virion had given me. But only vaguely. "How many would I need?"

"You'd need at least two, darling. Preferably more, considering all the tasks." She hummed a bit, penciling things down. "There's many, many duties, so-"

"Can't I just have you and Sumia?" My voice was smaller than I wanted, and I felt stupid as she stared. "Or… um… I just… I actually know you two. And I know… you don't hate me…"

"…Darling, I would never let anyone who hated you so close." And she smiled sweetly at me. "But I'd be honored, truthfully, and I can handle interviews in your name."

"That would be nice."

"In exchange, you have to ask Sumia yourself." Her smile warmed. "I'll be able to hear her squeal of delight from anywhere, so don't fret."

"Okay." I relaxed, finally smiling back. "Thanks, Maribelle. I'm completely lost."

"I know. But that's why I'm here to help. Same to Lissa, when she's not busy with her own duties." She winked, and laughed. "And… well, actually, should I let a few in who think they can seduce Chrom?"

"Huh?" Instantly, panic flooded me. "W-what?"

"It's not uncommon for kings to have mistresses, and some want the title of Lady in Waiting to get that." She said the words lightly, but my panic must've showed on my face because she instantly stiffened. "Oh, darling! I'm sorry! I only suggested it because I thought it would be funny to see them fail!"

"Th-they would?"

"Of course. Chrom's only got eyes for you, darling silly." Maribelle stood up to kneel beside me, and took my hands gently. "And he's so oblivious. I sincerely thought it would just be funny."

"I just…" I sighed, looking away. "It all feels too much like a dream, really. And…"

"It's no dream, I assure you." She reached up and pinched my cheek, just hard enough for a flicker of pain. "But I'll keep them far, far away until you're more secure, darling." She smiled sweetly. "Now, then. Why don't you go ask Sumia while I work a little more on names?"

"…Okay." I smiled again, relieved. "Thanks, Maribelle."

"Of course, darling." She sat down again, and picked up a piece of paper. "Go on, go on."

When I did eventually find Sumia, tending to her pegasus, her squeal of delight was exactly as loud as Maribelle predicted, and her immediate acceptance was more than enough to reassure me. I could only hope whoever else they picked was as easy to get along with.

"Soooo…~" Chrom grinned and turned towards me, posing dramatically. "How do I look?" he asked, laughing. "Well?"

"You're absolutely ridiculous," I teased, laughing too. I couldn't believe… when he'd invited me over to his room, I'd been expecting him in his normal clothes, not… "What are you even wearing?"

"It's traditional to dress up!" Chrom pitched his voice to be dignified, gallant. The effect was ruined by the rabbit ears he wore on his head, complete with a flower, and the little bushy tail only mostly hiding behind the white cape. Which also had flowers, on the hem and where it was tied at his shoulder. He even had a flower wrapped around the ankle of one of his boots. "Does this waistcoat look alright?"

"You look ridiculous as I said." But, I suppose you do look very nice, when you factor that into it." The light blue and gold did suit him. "You're just…"

"Ah, hang on. I've a costume for you too!" He ducked back into the closet and pulled out a dress of similar light blues and golds, though with more whites. Flowers were, of course, on the hems and bodice. "Frederick made this for you."

"He made it?!" I gawked at it, noticing how the sleeves were poofy. All of it was poofy. "That's…"

"You change, and I'll get the accessories he picked out. And your own bunny ears." He grinned and I gave him a look. "Yes, bunny ears are required, my love."

"You're lucky I love you."

"Oh, I'm well aware of that." He leaned down to kiss me sweetly. "I'll be right back." And he darted out the room with a skip in his step. Or, I supposed, a 'spring' in his step.

I scowled at his back anyway, and held up the dress again, frowning now. I definitely had to wear it if Frederick had made it for me, but I wasn't used to this whole 'here, have new clothes for every single freaking day of the year' thing that everyone was pushing on me. I wished the money, and time, were directed elsewhere, but I had no idea how to actually tell people that. Especially when I seemed to be the only one feeling awkward.

I shook my head roughly, and worked on changing, trying to not get lost in the lace and cloth of the dress. It was surprisingly light, perfect for the warming weather, even if I did feel like I was a little kid playing pretend, like I'd seen in the streets sometimes.

"Safe to come back?" Chrom called. He knocked on the door, but stayed outside. "I've your shoes and jewelry and the like."

"Yeah, I'm dressed," I replied. I felt embarrassed as he walked in and stared, absently setting most of whatever he held on a nearby table. "How do I look?"

"Beautiful. As always." He kissed my cheek and the tip of my nose before sliding a bunny-ear-headband on me. "And now the outfit is complete, my queen of spring."

"You're ridiculous." I smiled, but it faltered as he looked at me worriedly. "What is it?"

"Your smiles have been strained recently." He rested his hand on my cheek, fingers lingering by my eye. "And your eyes are a little puffy, like you haven't been sleeping. I thought I was just being a worrywart, but Robin pointed it out too."

"Robin's the bigger worrywart of you two." I ducked my head, eyes darting to the side. "It's nothing important, Chrom."

"I beg to differ." He tried to nudge my face back up to look at him, but didn't press when I refused. "Whatever is bothering you is quite important to me."

"I'm just… overwhelmed, that's all."

"…I'm sorry."

"Chrom, it's not your fault." I reached up to take his hand, though I still looked away. "It's just… very different than what I'm used to. That's not necessarily a bad thing. But…"

"What do you need changed?"


"What do you need changed?" He ducked down to catch my eye, and smiled softly. "What needs to change, so that you're more comfortable?"

"…Well, less clothes would be nice." The words came out slowly. I felt whiny. "There's too many. I get like twenty everyday."

"I'll let the tailors know." He leaned in, brushing his nose against mine. "Anything else?"

"I think… the rest is just things I need to get used to." I smiled at him, and I kissed him when he looked saddened. "You have to run a country. You can't do that and shield me from everything. Especially since I do want to help you." In fact, most of my issues was that I felt I was doing far too little for what I was getting.

"But…" He sighed, nodding. "No, you're right. You and I are equals. And you'll be annoyed at being shielded before long."

"I've had to fight for everything." I rested my hand and his chest, feeling his heart beating under my palms. "So, this is just… another fight for what I want. You."

"You have me. All of me." He rested his hand on mine, squeezing gently. "Ah, but we'd better head outside. The others are waiting." He shifted so that he was holding my hand, fingers intertwined with mine, and he started to lead me out before remembering something. "Your shoes."

"Yes, I do kind of need those." I grinned teasingly as he flushed. "Let me get those on, at least."

I got the shoes and a couple bits of jewelry on, absently checking that the engagement ring he'd given me, a beautiful diamond one, was on my hand before I let him lead me outside. I flinched at how loud everything was, but managed to keep up my smile as we dove headfirst into the crowd. I glanced around absently while Chrom greeted people with a smile, noticing with amusement that almost everyone was dressed up, with the Shepherds going full out for it. Even Lon'qu had bunny ears, and he looked exasperated by the whole thing, though he softened when Maribelle smiled at him.

"Chrom, Kestrel, there you are!" Robin called suddenly. I burst into laughter when I saw he was dressed similarly to Chrom, except with purples instead of blues. "About time! Olivia and I were about to come in and bother you!"

"W-we were not!" Olivia yelped. She was dressed in a simple dress, with lots of flower jewelry and, of course, bunny ears. I noticed she was leaning a little into Robin. "We were going to the egg rolling contest."

"Come on. I have to tease." Robin grinned, waving. "Catch you guys later!" He and Olivia disappeared, and some part of me was curious by how much time he spent with her. But, I mostly smiled because…

"It's so strange, being at a festival," I murmured. Chrom bent down to better hear me. "We never did anything like this before. We were always on the move. Actually participating in festivals was…"

"Well, now you can do this every year," he whispered. He smiled softly, and brought up our clasped hands to kiss mine. "Come on. Let's decorate some eggs first."


I couldn't do this. I couldn't do this, I couldn't do this, I couldn't do this, I couldn't do this, I couldn't do this. I just couldn't!

"Lady Kestrel, please, focus on your breathing." Frederick knelt beside me, resting a reassuring hand on my shoulder. He'd led me out of the ballroom during the chaos, and into a side room where no one would bother me. "Deep breaths," he instructed. I struggled to listen, but panic was overwhelming me. It seemed ridiculous. I could dance across a battlefield, kill without thinking. But a social situation, a ball, left me a wreck. "Keep it slow."

"I'm sorry," I blurted, the words shaking. I tried to find my calm, but it had fled. Instead, I was tempted, sorely tempted, to run, but I did keep myself sitting in the chair Frederick had pulled up. "I don't even know what I did!" My voice cracked and tears slipped down my face. I wasn't good enough. I wasn't good enough for this. "I…"

"You did nothing. He is someone who is simply insulted because Chrom didn't choose his sister for his bride." Frederick produced a handkerchief from nowhere and used it to dry my face. "You did absolutely nothing wrong, Lady Kestrel. I promise."


"You did nothing. You were perfect."

"But…" But I had to have done something. It had been my first 'official' ball as Chrom's fiancé, my second official appearance, and I'd somehow managed to get a nobleman to demand a duel for… something. "I…"

"Should I get Lord Chrom?"

"N-no!" I shook my head roughly, and then swiped at my eyes. The diamond on my ring scratched my cheek. "No, he needs to keep things calm. If anything, I should…"

"You're doing fine. Focus on your breathing."

"I'm sorry." This was just pathetic…

"So, let's try door number thirty…" The door opened with a creek, and Cordelia suddenly peeked into the room, and smiled warmly. "Found you!" she said, slipping inside. She made sure to shut the door behind her and leaned against it. "So, Frederick, what's this about a duel? Shepherds are up in arms wanting to defend Kestrel."

"Of course they are," Frederick laughed. He stood and rested a reassuring hand on my shoulder. I just focused on my breathing so that I stopped hyperventilating. "Basically, a noble is being a sore loser."

"Of course." She frowned and crossed her arms. "So, how does an 'official' duel go? Does she fight herself?"

"No, as she's the Exalt's fiancé, she'll need a champion."

"And are you that champion?"

"Sadly, by law, since I am Lord Chrom's right hand and the current highest rank military officer, I am unable." He grimaced. "I'm regretting that now. I would've liked to put him in his place."

"Soooo, can I?" Cordelia smiled hopefully, eyes sparkling. "Can pegasus knights?"

"Yes, of course. It simply has to be a knight." He looked down at me, and smiled. I was pleased that I'd finally got my breathing back under control, though I was still weepy. "Is that acceptable?"

"I… well, if I'm unable to fight, and she wants to…?" I replied. I felt so lost, but I smiled, touched. "I see no problem."

"Perfect!" Cordelia cheered. She came over to hug me tightly before grinning. "I'm going to make sure my pegasus and weapons are in perfect condition. I'll see you later!" She left without another word, making a point to make sure the door was shut behind her.

"You know; as queen, you'll need an official bodyguard," Frederick began absently. He patted my back soothingly, smile warming. "We might make Cordelia that, after this. If you don't mind."

"The concept of having a bodyguard is strange to me, but I suppose I have to adapt to it," I replied. My voice was a little shaky still. "I'm perfectly okay with it being Cordelia, though, if she doesn't mind."

"I doubt she'd mind at all."

"There you are!" Lissa burst in then and gave me a hug. The door smacked agains thte wall, but she clearly didn't care. "Oh, man, I could strangle that horrible… ooooo…!" she growled, popping back to look at me. She used her sleeves to wipe off the rest of my tears. I just looked at her with incomprehension. "Also, I asked Maribelle, and she was positively certain you did nothing wrong, certainly nothing that would mean a duel." She smiled and kissed my forehead before hugging me again. "And if Maribelle is saying that, then you definitely know it's true."

"Did Cordelia tell you where she was?" Frederick asked. He laughed when she nodded. "Very well. I should make sure preparations are made correctly for the duel. If you do not mind missing the rest of the ball…"

"Oh, please, I'm sticking with my sister in law." Lissa huffed, scowling. "And I'm going to put so many frogs in that noble's bed!"

"Don't do that," I scolded instantly. "The maids will have to clean that up."

"That's… true," Lissa sighed. She got a sparkle in her eyes, though, and Frederick left us quietly as she sat down on the floor beside me. "Maybe some hot peppers in his soup!"

"Are you seriously going to prank him?"

"Of course!" She gave me a serious look. "He waited to pull that until he had the most public audience, just to try and make you look bad. And I'm going to show him that that's not tolerated! So are Maribelle and Sumia." She grinned wickedly. "And Sully. It's going to be glorious. He's going to regret doing this!"

"So much trouble…"

"Bah, he's lucky Olivia and Lon'qu stopped Robin. He was ready to strike him down, right then and there!" Lissa giggled at the thought, but I had to squirm, well aware that Robin could do just that. "Oh, wait, can I ask Gaius to steal stuff from him?"

"I… let him decide?"

"Goodie~!" Lissa laughed, and leaned against my leg. "But seriously, you were doing great. I was talking to Virion when it all happened, and he'd been saying you were the picture of elegance."

"Like him?"

"Like him!" She grinned again, and this time, I had to laugh. "So, anyway, I figured we hide a bit longer, and then sneak over to the barracks for a proper party. Virion was heading over when I left to get things set up."

"Okay…" I smiled down at her, and ruffled her hair. "Thanks."


There was a lot of back and forth on when the duel would be, eventually deciding on three days after the ball, at midday. Unfortunately, Chrom had a meeting with Flavia's representative, one he couldn't defer, so he couldn't be here with me. I'd put on a brave face for him, reassuring him that I'd be fine. I'd still been relieved when Robin arrived, looking like he'd just popped out of a bath, and gave me a huge hug.

"I managed to postpone all my stupid meetings over supplies and whatnot, so don't fret about me skipping out on work," he reassured. He fussed a bit over my hair and jewelry, smiling. "I knew you'd be nervous."

"Yes, well, I'm not exactly…" I began. I had no idea how to continue the sentence though, so I shrugged. "Anyway, what's with you and Olivia? You hang out a lot."

"I… that…" He paused, glancing up as he thought before shrugging. "Who knows? I sure don't. No memories to fall back on to determine a logical conclusion."

"Do we need to…?" I started to offer to listen, but then realized how bad of an idea that would be in a hurry. "Why not talk to Frederick?"

"Is that our default with emotional issues? Talk to Frederick?"

"Well, I suppose Libra is now an option. You'd want someone who at least appears emotionally stable." I felt myself relax, giggling. "Ah, thank you."

"Good, you're smiling. It'll be fine." He hugged me again, patting my back. "Now, come on. We have to head out."

"Must we?" My stomach turned at the thought. We'd have to make our way to the 'trial grounds', set up specifically for things like this. It would be my third 'official' appearance as Chrom's fiancé, and the first one without him. And without Lissa, because Lissa was busy meeting with Plegian diplomats for Chrom. "No, you're right."

"Of course I am!" He grinned and I scowled before smiling back, and he cheerfully walked with me to the Trial Grounds, babbling out all sorts of gossip from the Shepherds, including how he'd caught Panne and Stahl kissing just yesterday. That one startled me, since I wouldn't have thought Panne would kiss anyone and made me curious about what other couples had blossomed. But that was thoughts for another day.

I hesitated again when we arrived at the grounds, but I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before entering with my head held high, just like Virion and Maribelle taught me. To my surprise, I was greeted with cheers, and it took a couple of seconds to realize that the stands of the trial grounds, so similar to Ferox's sacred arena, were filled with people. The nobleman who'd declared the duel was already in the battleground, and he looked rather pale in light of the cheering.

"Why so loud?" I asked Robin as the two of us made our escorted way to the viewing stand. There was only one chair there, but Robin had no problems simply standing beside me, grinning. "I mean…"

"In case you forgot, dearest sister, you fought for their freedom," Robin gently reminded. He smiled warmly, looking very pleased with himself. "And, well, we Shepherds had a few days. The others were eager to help out…"

"Oh, gods, what did you do?"

"Simply told people how amazing my sister is. And the Shepherds happily told people about how you fought alongside us, saved Lissa when we first met, saved Emmeryn when assassins struck, kept Chrom and me from insulting Flavia, fought to earn Ferox's troops alongside us, saved Maribelle when Gangrel used her as a hostage…"

"Enough, enough!" My face was bright red, and I scowled at him. "You make it sound better than it is."

"I'm simply stating facts!" Robin huffed, but smiled sheepishly. "And, well, they kind of got me back. They spread stories about me too."

"Have you been having trouble?"

"Not nearly as much as you. I, after all, was very visible in being the tactician. I'll probably be in more trouble when Chrom gives me that title he threatened." He nudged my side and I did bend enough to smile. "I knew having people cheering you would lighten your spirits. You've been very gloomy since that ball."


"I'm your big brother. You never have to apologize to me."

"You're my elder twin. You're not that much older."

"It's enough!" He laughed, and I laughed too, relaxing fully. "Oh, there's Cordelia!"

"Ah!" I leaned forward as I noticed he was right. Cordelia, armor shining and hair actually tied back for once, walked into the center to cheers. She looked rather startled by it, but smiled and actually waved to a few. She then looked up to where Robin and I were and waved again, this time winking. I smiled back, but it fell when she looked away.

"What's wrong?" Robin whispered. He rested a hand on my back soothingly. "You should smile for her."

"I know that, but…" I began. I tried to think of how to voice my feelings. The relief she was here. The worry. The guilt. "Well…"

"It's her choice." Robin rubbed my back. "And don't fret so much. She'll have this done in… two hits? Maybe three."

"Well, she's certainly skilled but…" I frowned and looked up at him. "You did something."

"I might have ferreted out his known weak points and gave them to Cordelia." He smiled angelically in return. "If he's going to try and humiliate my sister, I'm going to return the favor a thousand fold."

"…Oh, dear." I felt bad now. Robin had used the stories both to boost my reputation and to make sure there was a very large audience for a humiliating defeat. "Ah, is it starting?"


I didn't know the person who announced the duel's start. I barely paid attention as I leaned forward to watch. But I should've saved my worry because Robin was right. Cordelia had him flat on his ass in two strikes, surprisingly brutal strikes given how I'd seen her fight before. It could be simply because she wasn't on her pegasus, but there was a surety in her strikes. A fierceness to them.

"I… I…" the nobleman began. His face was ashen as he stared, too terrified for the mortification to kick in yet. "You… you're…"

"I give my best for my lady," Cordelia declared softly. The words still echoed through the air, and tears pricked my eyes as I smiled. "Kestrel is my queen, and so, I give her my best. That's all there is to it." The entire crowd burst into applause, and I struggled to not cry. I gave Cordelia the brightest smile I could when she looked up, and she smiled back with a bright one of her own.

Robin rested a hand on my shoulder and gave me a 'see, I told you' look. I half-heartedly whacked his shoulder, but smiled at him. He shifted to give me a one-armed hug and let me rest against him as I worked on calming down. It was what I needed, and he freely gave it.

"Your hair is so soft, Kestrel," Sumia cooed as she brushed my hair. She went through it slowly, brushing until a section basically shone before going to the next. "I'm jealous."

"I remember your hair also being soft," I pointed out. I sat very still in front of the vanity, studying the cloth that covered the mirror. "You have nothing to be jealous about."

"Come on; it's your wedding day. Just accept the compliments." Sumia giggled, still brushing my hair. "I'm glad it's finally quiet, though. Maribelle was brilliant in getting them out."

"Seriously." I breathed a sigh of relief. There had just been so many people, all insisting that they had to do something for me. Maribelle had noticed how overwhelmed I was getting and thrown them out with various tasks, before going to help Lissa with… whatever bridesmaids needed to do. Leaving me with my 'maid of honor', Sumia, to take in the quiet before the chaos. "This is a whirlwind of… stuff."

"That's one way to put it." Sumia hummed a bit, giggling. "The dress looks nice on you."

"I'd hope so, considering how much time was spent getting it tailored." I shuddered remembering that. But I had to admit the dress was still very pretty. White with a transparent blue over-skirt thing decorated with small flowers, and blue ribbons cinching the back. It was a bit lower cut than I'd normally wear, but considering the jewelry I wore, the lower cut made it less likely to get caught on something. "Four hours…"

"That's pretty small, considering."

"Ugh…" I made a face and she laughed, still brushing my hair. "…We're still trying to rebuild, though. Is it not too soon…?"

"It's been a few months."

"I know." It was summer now. The war had ended with the start of spring. "But still, will the people think…"

"Oh, Kestrel…" She laughed again and set the brush down. "You worry too much." She went over to the nearby window and opened it. A gentle breeze wafted in, carrying laughter and music. "They're already celebrating, you know." She turned back to smile at me. "Besides, you and Chrom were watching the budget closely, and you insisted on things like a public feast for the people, so that they didn't have to worry about dinner for a night."

"Well, yeah… it's pretty sucky starving while everyone else is…" I struggled to explain, but then shrugged. It was just an old memory now. "Never mind."

"And your experience and past can be used to help others. As queen, you're allowed to introduce policies as well." She giggled and came back over to continue brushing my hair. "But that's for after your wedding and your break."

"Yeah, our 'break'." I laughed at the thought. Chrom and I were just going to some estate a few days away, the former home of a noble who'd betrayed Emmeryn. While he'd opted to not execute anyone, but had stripped them of their titles, making us worry about future trouble. But, for now, there was a vacant house where Chrom and I were… probably going to work.

"I'm going to have to make sure you two don't take work along, aren't I?" Sumia poked my cheek, pouting. "You should simply enjoy your time together."

"We have our whole lives for that." I paused and groaned. "Oh, gods, that sounded like a line from one of the Ribald tales we like."

"I bet it is one!" She laughed and set the brush down again. This time, though, it was to set a small headpiece in my hair, and pinning the veil to it. "Oh, what's this?" As she picked up the veil, though, we found a small box underneath that neither of us recognized.

"That's strange." Frowning, I took it carefully, checking for anything that looked or smelled odd. Finding nothing, I opened it to find a beautiful set of diamond earrings. "Oh…"

"Wow, that goes so well with the rest of your jewelry…" Sumia leaned over my shoulder to study them better. "Actually, isn't it a perfect match for your wedding ring?"

"It is." I picked one up to hold it in the light, marveling at how it sparkled. "I wonder if Maribelle wanted to do a switch?"

"Maybe. It would make sense, and then she probably got distracted." Sumia finished with the veil and then helped me change out my earrings to these new ones. "Wow… are you sure you don't want to see your reflection?"

"Absolutely." I was feeling nervous and jittery. I didn't need any reminder of my father today. "I'll take everyone's word."

"Well, in that case, you look amazing." Sumia giggled and hugged me. Just then, though, someone knocked on the door. "Come in?"

"Hey there!" Robin walked in, looking rather nice in his suit. "Here comes the bride~ here comes the bride~" he sang, teasing. I blushed furiously, and glowered. "Come on, sister. It's your wedding. Smile!"

"I'd better go get to my place," Sumia laughed, giving me another hug. "Let's talk at the after party, Kestrel!"

"Okay!" I replied, watching her leave. Two seconds later, I heard her squeak and almost fall. "Oh dear."

"Frederick wasn't far behind me, so he'll make sure she gets there safely," Robin reassured me. He held his hands out to me, smiling brightly. "Come on, Kestrel. It's time for your wedding."

"I suppose so." It felt so strange, and I almost felt like crying. I'd never thought I'd… I hadn't even entertained the thought. I read the stories, of course, but… "This is so different than where I'd thought we'd be a year ago."

"Maybe me getting amnesia was the best thing for us." He smiled and rested his forehead against mine, giving me a hug. "I do not know what secrets you still hide, Kestrel. I know there's still some. But that's okay. I hate that you burden yourself with them, but don't force yourself to speak. We deserve to be happy, though, and I want you to be the happiest that you can."

"…Okay." I smiled back, and had to fight back tears. "You know; if you make my makeup run before the ceremony, Maribelle is going to whack you."

"That'll be bad." He leaned back with a laugh and helped me stand up. "Let's go."


Notes on Donnel

Class – Villager; Reclass – Mercenary, Fighter

A young man we accidentally recruited while helping him deal with bandits. Because his original home is on the outer regions of Ylisse, he speaks with a notable accent.

The only Shepherd without formal training, and it's obvious that he needs to play catch up. Luckily, we have quite a bit of free time.

High aptitude and eager to learn. If he trains, it's possible he'd become one of our strongest, due to his incredibly keen memory.

Chapter Text

Interlude – Blaze

The wedding went surprisingly well. Supposedly, there had been some mishaps, but I honestly didn't notice. Granted, I'd been far more focused on keeping calm through the ceremony and the reception. I learned from Maribelle that she had no idea where the earrings had come from, and there was a quick check over them to make sure there was no slow poison on them. But no, they were just simple earrings, and quickly proved to be a favorite thanks to how simple, yet elegant, they were.

Chrom and I had a blissful little honeymoon before returning to work. That's when it actually clicked. I was married. I was Chrom's wife. I was Queen of Ylisse. Gods, this is so damn weird.

"Queen Kestrel, welcome, welcome!" The general air of cheerfulness followed Cordelia and me as we made our way through the market. It was so strange to see and so odd to hear. No stranger had ever greeted me so happily before, and… well, I never expected to be much of anything, much less a queen. "Here, sample some of the fruit!"

"Cordelia, help?" I squeaked, even as I smiled and thanked people as they greeted us. I wanted my sword, but I'd been forbidden to have one. Which was probably a good thing, since I was twitchy. Crowds rarely meant good things. "Please?"

"Do you need more space?" Cordelia asked instantly. She was my only guard, my 'personal bodyguard', and she carried a dagger and a lance. "Do you need to head back?"

"I don't want to head back, quite yet." It was sorely tempting, but I did want to keep going. The whole thing was planned because I remembered Emmeryn used to do this to reassure people. I thought they could use it now. Even through their smiles, I could see how their clothes were a little looser, and how many wore mourning black. "But I could use air soon."

"We're almost out of the market, Kestrel." She gave me a warm smile. "Just a bit more."

"Okay." Biting back a sigh, I looked over the crowd with smiles and polite greetings. Specific movement in the crowd, though, caught my eye, and I watched closely when I noticed it was children. Children carefully moving through the crowd, and I knew those movements. I knew those 'oh-so-conveniently-timed' bumping into people.

I nudged Cordelia and nodded to them. She nodded back and subtly began helping me maneuver through the crowd to head off the kids. When we got to the edge, we followed them for a bit longer before ducking into the alleyway. Cordelia took the rear and I casually climbed up and around, dropping in front of the two pickpockets just as they were happily comparing their conquests.

"Hello there," I greeted lightly. I studied them quickly, noticing there was a noticeable age difference between them, though still likely small given their youth. The older one's dress was patched and near threadbare in some places. The younger one's shirt was baggy, and their pants were only staying on due to the ripe tied around their waist. "Did you have fun?"

"We're not sure what you're talking about, your majesty," the older one instantly replied. They tucked the stolen moneypouch behind their back and glanced over their shoulder. Cordelia smiled and waved, proving they were very trapped. "Um…"

"Relax, relax. I remember the game well. Wait for a distraction, take advantage of how no one looks up or down, widen your eyes innocently when accused." I smiled slightly as the two exchanged confused looks. "I used to do it too, when I was very young. Though, I wasn't very good. My brother was better, quieter, though he hated it. One reason why we went into the mercenary business, actually."

"You and your brother did?" the younger one asked. They stepped a little closer to me, tentative, but a little hopeful. "Really? The Duke Tactician and our Queen?"

"It's no exaggeration that I am lowborn, and 'common mercenaries' are often former street children," I chided. I made sure to soften my smile. "Now, what was it that you wanted to buy with that money? Medicine? Food? Clothes? A little trinket to remind yourself that the world can still be pretty?"

"Food, mainly, your majesty." They gestured at their compatriot, who looked down. "Sara's sister… she just had a baby. And my little brother was sick."

"Medical costs always take up savings. Babies as well. I saw it often." My smile faltered as I remembered one particularly kind mother Robin and I had bought food from, back in Ferox. Winter stole both her and her child. I hoped… I could do something to minimize such things. "Well, how about you two come with me, and I will pay for the food you need for today?"

"Really?" the older one, Sara, asked. She looked up, eyes hopeful yet distrusting. "How do we pay it back? Papa always says you have to pay things back. So does Mia's mama."

"And I remember the pride that came with being a crafty child in the streets," I half-teased. Both of them smiled at that. Cordelia, behind them, winked. She knew it too. "Alright, here's what we'll do instead, then. I am out here to shop. If you two will accompany me, and help me find the best bargains, I will pay you." I held out my hands to them. "How does that sound?"

"…Thank you!" They seized my hands eagerly, and I happily let them lead Cordelia and me about the market, where they not only showed me the best places to shop, but also introduced me to quite a few people.

I made a mental note to see about hiring more children for simple jobs like this. I remembered how hard it could be, to scrounge up coin for everything.

The laughter of children, kids from the city hired to do odd jobs about the palace, playing in the courtyard and gardens followed Robin and I as we walked down the hall. It harmonized rather nicely with my own laughter, because my brother admitted, finally, that he'd fallen for the shy dancer.

"It took you three talks with Frederick? Really?" I teased, unable to help it. It was just so amusing to me, I was happy about it, and Robin was adorable when pouting. "Three?"

"Give me a break! I don't have memories!" he snapped, face mottled red with a mortified blush. "No emotional context!"

"You're so very clever with everything else."

"Says the woman who is so very graceful at everything but dancing!"

"I'm not that bad! I did quite nicely at my wedding. I didn't step on your toes."

"Barely." He huffed, while I continued to giggle. "Well, if you tease, I must get you back. Perhaps bring up what the councilors keep 'subtly' mentioning around you?"

"I swear by all that's holy, if they ask about how 'making an heir' is going, I'm going to give them an in-depth description of my sex life, mortified or not." I scowled, remembering how I'd dealt with that just this morning. "I'm the queen, not a broodmare, and technically, Chrom has an heir already. Lissa."

"True, true." Robin laughed and I relaxed again. "So…" He trailed off, frowning. "Do you hear a bell?"

"A bell?" I stilled and tilted my head, catching the sound on the wind. "Yes, it seems to be… from the city…" A horrified thought flashed through my head because I could only think of one reason why bells would be going off. "Oh, gods, is there a fire?"

"Let's go look." He paused and then look up, gasping. "That's…"

Both of us started running as we realized thick, black smoke was coiling into the sky. We were joined by others, and we quickly jumped into the panicking crowd, helping with evacuations. At some point, Frederick snagged me by the arm and dragged me from where I'd been helping with the flames. I nearly snapped at him, but he pointed out that I was the Queen, and to lose a royal so quickly would hurt the people. We compromised with me helping people over to where Libra, Lissa, and Maribelle had set up an infirmary with other healers. I calmed down the panicking, and held the hands of the injured and dying. When the fires calmed, I comforted the grieving, and reassured the lost. The fires had destroyed a quarter of the residential area, and damaged even more. Fifty died, including pets. Some were children and young.

Cordelia found me in the middle of it all, soot covered and glowering, and silently led me through the crowd to a conspicuously open place. Vaike and Stahl held two people on their knees while Chrom looked at them with stony eyes. I recognized one fairly quickly, though I'd only met him once; he still wore indigo. With him here, I had a sinking feeling I knew just why they were here, and why Cordelia had brought me over.

"I'd say you stand accused, but my Shepherds caught you red-handed," Chrom whispered into the falling silence. I stood on the edges of the crowd, resting a hand on a trembling child next to me. "You deliberately set fire to the residential area. That is arson. People died from those flames. That is murder. I'm sure there are other crimes you can be charged with." He glared as one opened their mouth. "You were caught. You were caught setting fire to the area. This is no accident. There is no lie you can say to make anyone believe you."

"Especially considering your previous crimes," Frederick added. He moved out of the crowd, carrying a silver sword. "My king, Robin has determined with the help of Miriel and Ricken that some of the fire was magically induced, explaining why it spread so quickly."

"Which matches the witness testimony of seeing these men casting fire spells at the buildings." Chrom gave them a withering look, eyes icy. "You're traitors, you remember? When Plegia came, you let them pass, holing up in your estates while your people burned. When our enemies came to Ylisstol, you welcomed them with open arms, and laughed as they slaughtered. You cheered when Emmeryn, your Exalt, was captured. Normally, those crimes would mean death, but I gave you mercy. I gave you a chance at redemption, because that is what my sister would've wanted. Yet, you used that mercy to kill and burn people who had nothing to do with that decision."

"My king." Frederick held out the silver word, and the gathered crowd held its breath, realizing just what was about to happen. No few looked very gleeful at the sight. "Or would you like me to?"

"No, I will." Chrom took the blade and walked forward. The two struggled, whimpering and wide-eyed, but Vaike and Stahl continued to hold them still with stoic expressions. "Despite what you did, you thought your punishment did not fit your crimes. So, I will give you what you wish. I will give you the punishment the law dictates fits your crime."

Two flashes, and the heads rolled. Blood splattered and pooled underneath the bodies. Vaike and Stahl let the corpses fall and no one moved when they walked away, leaving the bodies. Chrom casually handed the sword back to Frederick and closed his eyes, still tense. So, I walked over to him then, and rested a hand on his shoulder. He opened his eyes to look at me, and I smiled tiredly, using my sleeve to wipe the blood off his face. Then I took his hand and led him to the injured and grieving, so that we could both tend to our people.

Later, when night had fallen and we were safely back in our room, Chrom broke down in tears. I held him as he cried, whispering reassurances. It was all either of us could do, in this situation.

There were a lot of places that needed reconstruction thanks to the war, and the fire's destruction only added to it. Chrom and I had to work extensively with the nobles and knights to get needed materials to distant villages. Even then, some nobles dragged their heels, not seeing the point with such haste. I put my foot down and told them the grisliest stories I had about winter to make them move, relying on shock to override their knowledge of how winters were only 'moderate at worst' here in Ylisse. So much of our time was spent with that. We barely had any time or manpower to look into the remaining 'traitor nobles' to see if they had plans for revenge.

"I brought sweets!" I called, weaving my way through the crowd to reach where the Shepherds were helping the builders. They'd thrown themselves into the work, even the ones who didn't handle physical labor well, like Miriel and Ricken. "Made them myself."

"You are a treasure, dear lady!" Virion laughed. He finished with whatever he was doing on the roof and climbed down, rolling his shoulders. "Goodness, I have never done so much manual labor in my life."

"We're not forcing you. There are other ways to help."

"Perhaps, but it gives me a better perspective for when I must rebuild Rosanne." He smiled kindly at me. "You look tired. Did your dear husband keep you up late, my dear?"

"Now, now, a lady does not kiss and tell, just like a gentleman." I laughed, though, and I knew that was the only reason he said that. I'd been complaining to him last night about how much these nobles dragged their feet on everything. "How go things here?"

"We're ahead of schedule, thanks to Nowi and Panne." He gestured to where Nowi, in dragon form, and Panne, in rabbit form, were using their larger size and strength to carry far more than humans could. "We might actually have most of the houses rebuilt, and some of the damages mended by winter."

"That's good to hear." It had been a worry. We were in the later months of autumn, and news from the farmers wasn't good. Too many fields had been trampled, so we'd likely have a lean year. "Particularly because of this morning."

"What happened?"

"I had nobles yelling at me for advising Chrom to take less in reparations." I still stood by it, though. "It took a lot of my morning, which is why I begged the cooks to let me bake as a stress relief."

"Which are cooling and drying out while we chat." Virion smiled warmly and I smiled back. "If you would like, I can pass them out while you check in on things."

"Children get priority." I winked as I passed him my baskets. "And you may inform Ricken that he does not count as a child for this."

"I shall~" He laughed, walking off with the baskets, and I wandered through, checking that injuries were being tended to, that everything was safe, that everyone had enough water. Chrom and I tried to make sure we had time to swing by once per day, especially since most of these people were volunteers.

"Kestrel?" Lon'qu's quiet voice barely caught my attention, and I turned, surprised to see him among the group. Normally, he was patrolling the perimeter. "Might I have a word?" he asked. Though his expression was stoic, he seemed uneasy. "Please?"

"Certainly," I replied, walking to the side of the current work area. I made sure to smile. "What is it?"

"I… um…" A pale pink blush started to bloom on his face. "I… would like your permission… to court Maribelle."

"You need my permission?"

"Lissa said that if I wanted to do it properly, which I do, then yes. She is your lady in waiting, and thus, by law, she needs your permission." He looked down, and I spared a brief bit of sympathy for Lissa. I knew she still had feelings for Lon'qu. "So…"

"Well, if she's fine with it, then I certainly give permission." I laughed, feeling a little giddy when he looked up again with a slight smile. "Though, knowing her, I'm sure she sent you on a quest to court her properly."

"She thought it might also help me with my trauma."

"How is that going?"

"Better. Though, my nightmares…" He trailed off, blush and smile fading. "You… likely figured it out. It is no 'phobia'. That's why you said 'trauma' and 'scars'."

"I had a guess, based on how Basilio explained it." I shrugged, still smiling. "Though, phobias can also be born from traumas. I worked with a man once who couldn't climb anything because he watched his brother fall from a high height."

"True." He fell silent. "I've told her. But when I was younger, my best friend, a girl, died protecting me. I still…"

"It never goes away, sadly." I knew my own smile faded with pain and he nodded. He'd known I'd understand. "Still, you deserve happiness. If I deserve it, as I have so often been told, then certainly you do as well."

"…Thank you." He smiled back again. "I'm… I can almost believe that."

"So, about the same where I am." I laughed and he actually chuckled a bit. "Regardless…"

A series of yells made both of us stiffen, and we both ran before we quite realized the source of the yells. A section of a damaged wall suddenly fell, but Lon'qu and I quickly caught the worst of it before it crashed down. We were quickly joined by Sully and a couple of others I didn't recognize, and all of us held it up as still others snagged the top and pulled it back to its proper place.

"Damn, that was close," Sully laughed. She didn't wear her normal armor, and I frowned when I noticed something on her neck. "What is it, your majesty? If it's the wall…"

"Well, I am a bit worried, but I'm sure it was just something unexpected," I replied. I tapped the side of my neck. "But you… either you have bruises or hickeys right here."

"I do?" She covered it instantly, glowering. "Excuse me. I need to kill Vaike."

It took me a full second to piece together why that was, and I laughed and laughed when I did. By the time I calmed down, some of the other women invited me to help them roast sweet potatoes on the fire, and I gladly joined in, my spirits higher than ever.

Things like this reminded me that everything would be worth it. Things could heal.

I woke up slowly, perfectly warm and comfortable. In fact, I might have just gone straight back to sleep, except something was tugging and messing with my hair and I was curious. So, slowly, mumbling a bit, I opened my eyes, and smiled when I saw Chrom was awake. From there, it was easy to figure out everything. He'd woken up first, and instead of waking me up, he chose to just run his hand through my hair.

"Good morning, beautiful," he whispered when he noticed I was awake. He leaned in and kissed the tip of my nose, making me squeak. "Did I wake you?"

"We'll call it 'half'," I answered smile widening. It fell, though, when I noticed just how much light was drifting in through the windows. "Oh, we overslept!" I scrambled to get out of bed, but Chrom snagged me by the waist and dragged me back under the covers. "Hey!"

"Did you forget, Kes? We have the morning off." He pulled me closer and nuzzled my neck, peppering it with kisses. I flushed, both from embarrassment at forgetting and from the memory of last night. "Morning just for us."

"First time since our honeymoon." I was sorely tempted just to remain abed, especially as he switched to kiss my collarbone, but then I pushed him back. "However, we're awake, and I'd rather not have sex when someone can come bursting in on accident."

"Who would do that?"

"I can think of a hundred and one. Particularly since it snowed yesterday, and I'm sure some Shepherds will want to have a snowball fight again." I wrapped my arms around him and kissed the top of his head. "Come on. Up and dressed."

"Fine." He shifted up to kiss me soundly before rolling off of me and out of bed. "Something comfortable for the morning, at least."

"Sounds good." I pushed myself up slowly and stretched my arms behind my head. I glanced over to see Chrom watching me. "Clothes?"

"You have to forgive me for being distracted." He smiled teasingly, his expression full of affection. "You're incredibly beautiful."

"And you're quite handsome, love." I smiled back, fighting the urge to laugh. I had been married to him for so many months, yet I still was so giddy that I got to wake up and see him by my side. "Come on. Or we really won't get up."

"Is that so bad?"

"We only have the morning off."

"Eh, true." He disappeared into the closet while I headed to the bathroom to freshen up and take a morning bath. Then it was changing into my clothes and brushing and drying my hair at my dresser. Normally by now, Maribelle or Sumia would be here to help me get ready for the day, but mornings off for me meant they could spent their mornings elsewhere. It was strange to not have them, yet at the same time, there was something comfortable at being alone.

I paused in the middle of brushing my hair and laughed, unable to help it. It felt so strange. I was 'almost' used to everything, but I couldn't quite. It was like when I first got here, met these strange people. Happiness and delight tempered slightly by fear. I was scared of losing all of this. I was scared I didn't deserve it and the gods would punish them for letting me be so happy.

"What's so amusing?" Chrom asked. He snuck up behind me and caught me in a hug, kissing my temple. The distant sound of a fire crackling hinted he'd made one to warm the room a little more. "Share the joke?"

"It's no 'joke', really," I answered, setting my brush down. I leaned back into him and gripped his arm. "I was just… thinking."

"Something amusing?"

"No, not really." I wasn't sure how to explain that I felt like all of this was going to disappear. Even though it had been over a year since we met, nearly six months since we married, I hadn't been able to tell him about being a Vessel of Grima. I had tried a couple of times. I tried now. But the words stuck in my throat just as always. I trusted him. I loved him. But I couldn't admit that part of myself. "I'm really not a good wife."

"I disagree, vehemently." He turned my chair so that I was facing him and he leaned down to kiss me fervently, hands ghosting up my side to make me gasp. "If it's your past making you say that, then I will reassure you as many times as it takes." He kissed me again and I sighed into the kiss, relaxing slightly. "I love you. You and only you."

"And if it has to deal with Grima?"

"Half tempted to thank Grima, truthfully." He smiled as I gave him a disbelieving look. "Oh, relax. I'm simply grateful that his line led to you and Robin. I'm grateful you were born, and that you're both in my life."

"…You are ridiculous." I reached up to cup his face, smiling slightly. "Grima destroyed a lot of things, if you'll remember."

"Yes, yes, he's evil and bad. But, at the same time, if he hadn't existed, neither you nor Robin would be here, and I wouldn't be nearly as happy." His own smile widened. "It's quite a selfish line of thought, of course. Do you think me lesser for it?"

"I think you're insane, really. But, then again, I thought that a while ago." I leaned up to kiss him. "It also makes me think of changing my mind, and we simply lock the door so that you can prove your words. What do you think?"

His answer was to kiss me again, and we ended up having to change clothes again before attending to our duties. I was somewhere between smug and sheepish when I had to help him button up his collar; hickeys really weren't 'proper' when you were talking with nobles.

"So, Plegia has a new king," I whispered, looking through the report. Fauder, a member of the Grimleal, was elected the new king since Gangrel had no heirs. It worried me, though. The Grimleal had a policy of not directly interfering with politics. They were the true power, but they ruled from the shadows. That they would step out of those shadows… "I see."

"Do you know him, my lady?" Cordelia asked me. She rested a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "You have been pale ever since the news reached us."

"No, I don't know the name. I simply do not know why they would change their tactics. It has always been that the Grimleal advise the king, not take up the crown themselves." It worried me. Especially since I knew, better than anyone, what their true goal really was. Robin and I were safe in Ylisse, but… "Is there a way we can set up more guards on the border subtly?"

"I'll ask Frederick to consider it." She squeezed my shoulder, smiling. "It'll be alright."

"I hope so." But it was hard. I just had a horrible feeling. "Maybe I'm just overreacting." I made myself smile back. "Can you deliver a note to Robin for me?"


"Thank you." I jotted a very quick message to Robin, basically urging him to 'conveniently avoid' going to Plegia ever, and handed it to her. "It's not secret, and if he asks, just say his twin is being paranoid."

"I will." She winked and walked out of my study. I sighed and leaned back in my chair, shivering a bit and pulling my coat further around me. It was late winter now, and it had proven to be a rather chilly winter. I refused to keep a fire in my study, though. I preferred leaving the wood for others. I wondered if I should make one, though, to see if it would make me feel better.

Pounding footsteps made me pause, though, and I looked up just in time to see Sumia crash into my study, looking winded. "I need to hide!" she told me seriously. I just continued staring at her, a little startled by how she looked. Her hair, for instance, was all over the place. "Please?"

"Certainly," I replied, frowning now. She looked disheveled and wanted to hide. My mind connected the two to a very serious thing. "Do I need to kill someone?"

"What?" She looked confused and closed the door behind her. "No, no, no one needs to be killed. Well, maybe me."

"What happened, then?"

"Frederick and I were out on a ride, and he said something really nice, and I teased him a little, but then I accidentally mentioned I love him?" Her face went redder and redder, and I relaxed at the reassurance that she hadn't been assaulted. "So, yeah, um… hide?"



"…Okay?" I almost asked more, but she looked so frantic, so I decided instead to simply poke fun at her a bit, in a different way. "Say, isn't this whole one of the couples got together in Ribald Tales of the Faith War?"

"I… oh, huh, maybe." She became thoughtful for a split-second before going back to frantic. "So, please, can I…?"

"I need these organized." I handed her a stack of papers and pointed to the small room connected to my study. I'd been told that the room would serve as a nursery, whenever I had children. For now, though, it was empty. "Please and thank you."

"Okay!" She gave me a thankful smile before dashing into the room. Only to return two seconds later to actually take the papers. "Aha…"

"Maybe work on calming down too." I grinned and she sulked, but she headed into the room, and I decided to return to my work, a bit too amused to feel uneasy now.

It felt like only a moment had passed before someone knocked on my door. I looked up as it opened to reveal a concerned, mildly frantic, Frederick. "My queen, I apologize for bother you," he murmured, bowing to me. "But have you seen Sumia?"

"You're looking for Sumia?" I asked, giving him my best 'politely stoic' expression. "Why?"

"We… were having a discussion and she ran."

"Did you say something to upset her?"

"I hope not."

"Did she say something that upset you?"

"No, she didn't." He hesitated before bowing his head. "If you do know where she is, or if you see her, can you tell her…?"

"What was this conversation anyway?" I frowned slightly, but it was mostly to keep from bursting into laughter. I also felt guilty. "Sumia is my best friend, after all. I would yield to her wishes over yours."

"Which makes sense." He still refused to look up. "We talked about how I'd tended to her armor. Then she mentioned how she felt pretty, and I said she was always beautiful, that I could not take my eyes off of her…"

"Really?" I let myself smile. "Frederick, it sounds to me like you've fallen in love with her."

"…I have." His voice was very soft, so soft that I had to bite back my giddy laughter to make sure I could still hear him. "I am captivated. So, I truly wish… to speak with her as soon as possible."

"Is that so?" Now, I just had to giggle. "Frederick, please raise your head." I stood up as he did and pointed to the side room. It took him a full second to realize what that meant, and his jaw dropped. "I love you dearly, by the way. You're both adorable."

"That… is a mean trick, my queen." Still, he was smiling. "A very mean trick."

"Let me have my fun." I laughed and headed out the door. "You two have proper confessions, and the like, okay? I'm going to find Cordelia and let her know I'm on break."

I closed the door behind me, before he could reply, and I made it only two steps before I had to stop and lean on the wall, giggling far too much to stand up. I was just… so happy for both of them. I really was.

"Kestrel?" Maribelle's worried face appeared in my vision. "Is everything alright?" she asked, frowning. "I saw Sumia running, then Frederick, and now you're out here…"

"They're sorting relationship things," I explained, still laughing. She instantly relaxed. "So, I'm on break and need to find Cordelia." I hooked my arm around hers and started down the hall. "Afterwards, we should have tea with Lissa."

"Sounds absolutely delightful, darling." Maribelle laughed as well, nodding. "I found this lovely tea that I believe you and dear Lissa will adore…"

As soon as winter faded for spring, people began preparations for a festival and not just the typical Spring Festival. Instead, the people began to celebrate the anniversary of the war's end, which of course meant that Chrom and I had to make an appearance. All the Shepherds had to, actually. To them, we were the 'heroes of the war', after all.

"Goodness, there's a lot going on," I murmured, subtly trying to shake the flower petals out of my hair. People were throwing them everywhere, and they were getting stuck in my circlet and bun. "I'm glad I decided against that elaborate headdress chain thing Maribelle originally pointed out." Surprised that there was no response, I turned to see Cordelia looking at something to the side. "Cordelia?"

"Y-yes?!" she squeaked. She looked back at me, and smiled. "Sorry, I thought I saw something."

"I see." I still frowned, noticing she was flushing. "Why do I have a… oh, hang on." I smiled politely as another person came up to greet Chrom and me. We were seated on a dais or whatever it was called, looking over everything benevolently.

Really, Chrom and I just wanted to walk through the streets, but unfortunately, we had to put on a show. Robin and Lissa, the lucky ones, got out of it.

"Now, then…" I murmured as the person left. A quick look showed that we had some time before the next 'event' for us, some sort of play being put on. "To continue. Based on how longingly you were looking-"

"I was not looking at him longingly," Cordelia instantly hissed. She scowled. "I was not."

"…I didn't say 'him'." I smiled slowly and she squirmed. "But now, I am most, most curious." I leaned to the side, wondering if I could catch sight of whoever caught Cordelia's eye. It took a moment before I noticed Libra was in the crowd, off to the side tending to someone. But every so often, he'd glance up at the dais, specifically to Cordelia. "Oh, Libra?"

"Mmm…" Her face reddened. "I'm sorry. I'm on duty, yet…"

"Oh, Cordelia." I laughed softly and turned my attention to Frederick, standing dutifully behind Chrom. "Frederick, you feel comfortable guarding both Chrom and me, right?"

"I would hesitate to agree outright, my queen, but we do have numerous guards, and both you and King Chrom are armed…" he replied slowly. Both he and Chrom frowned, though. "Why?"

"Cordelia's been overworking, as per usual, and I'd like to give her a bit of time off," I happily half-lied. I smiled brightly, even as Cordelia squeaked behind me, and while Frederick continued to frown, Chrom smiled back. "Please?"

"I… suppose that is acceptable." Frederick's eyes narrowed. "When you have to leave the dais, she should return."

"Of course." I nodded and turned back to Cordelia, who gave me the most exasperated-mortified look. "Go on. I think I see Libra in the crowd. You should get checked."

"I will get you back for this, my lady," she muttered. Still, she did smile slightly and nod. "But, I think… I will. I'll be back before long."

"Have fun," I whispered, waving and winking. She rolled her eyes and left the dais, and I shifted my chair a little closer to Chrom's, snagging his hand. "You don't mind, right?"

"I wish I could have so convenient an excuse to get out of this," Chrom instantly retorted. He leaned over to kiss my cheek, but both of us blushed at the squeals and cheers in the crowd. "I hate being on display. I really do."

"Just bear it a while longer, my king," Frederick murmured. He was back to being stoic, carefully glancing at everything around us. "After the plays, we'll have the parade."

"That's hardly better, you know."

"And after that, we're hiding you in the Barracks so that you can celebrate with the Shepherds."

"Now that I do like." Chrom grinned and I giggled. "Thank you."

"I'm well used to having to come up with a reward to get you to cooperate, my king." Frederick smiled ever-so-slightly. "You have always been like that."


"Speaking of rewards and cooperation…" I began, smiling slowly. Frederick's smile immediately dropped at the sight. "Well, perhaps that's not the best lead in, but how are things with you and Sumia, Frederick?"

Thus began Chrom and I relentlessly teasing the living hell out of Frederick before settling down for the long series of plays of various degrees of competence. But they certainly got points for enthusiasm, at least.

During the later weeks of spring, Miriel and Kellam surprised everyone by eloping. I found it hilarious, and I found it even more hilarious at how many Shepherds were sulking over it.

"I can't believe they did that!" Lissa whined, pouting. She and I actually managed to have a break at the same time, so we were enjoying the sunshine on a balcony. "Seriously? The second marriage among our group, and they freaking eloped!"

"Miriel doesn't seem like a person who likes fuss, finding it inefficient," I quietly reminded. I still found it all far, far too amusing. "Kellam seems the same, I suppose."

"You're taking this way too calmly."

"I am not close to either of them, Lissa. In case you forgot, I've barely known you all for a year and a half now."

"…Oh, right." Lissa hummed a bit in thought, frowning slightly. "I guess I forgot. You're just so much a part of our lives now, you and Robin." Her frown deepened. "Wait, have you and Robin talked at all recently?"

"We manage here and there, but between my work and his…" I shrugged, trying not to feel too sad about it. He was the tactician of the army, and the ruler of a nearby duchy, so his days were filled with helping the army and learning how to rule a duchy. I was queen, with my days filled with organizing policies and charities, keeping the budget, ensuring that the castle ran smoothly, and arguing with nobles to get policies through. "We write daily."

"That still sucks." She sighed, kicking her feet back and forth. "I get now why Chrom thought Emm hated him for a time. I never knew Emm before she became Exalt. She already was the Exalt before I was born. It was all I knew." She looked down briefly before looking up at the clouds. "I'm still used to being able to just burst into Chrom's office and drag him out for fun. Pull pranks on him. See him whenever I want. Now, though, I basically have to make an appointment."

"If you're lonely, you should tell him."

"I am lonely, but I don't think there's anything that he can do. He barely takes breaks as is." She smiled at me. "The only time he gets a break is when he's with you, and I don't want to interfere with that." She made a face. "What if I walk in while you two are working on giving me a niece or nephew?"

"We lock the door." I grinned wickedly as she went bright red. "Sorry, I had to tease just a little."

"I'm sure." She grumbled something else, but laughter wafted up then. "Oh, that sounds like Maribelle." She popped out of her chair and leaned over the railing, frowning slightly. "Looks like she's walking with Lon'qu."

"Is she?" I walked over to the railing as well, and smiled when I saw she was right. I smiled more when I saw Lon'qu, shakily and bright red, kiss Maribelle's hand. Maribelle's resulting smile was brighter than the sun. "Looks like they're doing well."

"They are." Lissa's expression was half-smiles, half-tears. "Ah… I'm so stupid…"

"No, you're not." I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and pulled her into a hug. "You fell in love with a good man. You stayed back when you saw he loved someone else. That's very mature, Lissa, though I'm sure it hurts." I almost wished I could sympathize, but I couldn't. Chrom was the only one I'd ever fallen in love with, and by some miracle, he returned those feelings. "And you'll fall in love again. Sumia and Cordelia did."

"Oh, right, Cordelia and Libra are dating now." Lissa laughed. It wobbled from unshed tears, but it was also very bright and cheerful. "I'm glad. Libra smiles so much now. Cordelia seems just as happy."

"She is." Cordelia's default was a smile nowadays. I was happy for her. "It'll be fine. This pain will pass."

"…Yeah." She nodded and leaned against me. "Though, I'm still peeved about Miriel and Kellam eloping."

"You should tell them, next time you see them."

"I will."

Early summer should've been a happy time. Chrom and I were married during the early summer. We should've been celebrating. But both of us, looking at finances and the like, decided against having our own celebration for it, instead planning on combining it with the next known festival, the harvest festival in the autumn. Most around us frowned, but we insisted. It didn't feel right, and in the middle of making such decisions, we got a message from Flavia. Ferox was dealing with a rebellion, and they urged us to watch our borders.

"So, they specifically requested us to not get involved?" I asked, frowning slightly. Ferox was known for its pride in warfare, but this seemed… "There's more to this request than simply 'culture', isn't there?"

"There is," Olivia confirmed. She had returned to Ferox briefly for a couple of shows, and had returned with her messages, as well as a personal request from Basilio: let Olivia stay here. "The rebels are gathering people because they dislike that so many died for a 'foreign war'."

"Even though death in battle is regarded so highly." I leaned back in my chair, still frowning. I had been in my study, with Cordelia standing guard behind me, when Olivia had come in with her news. "Is it because it's been so long since Ferox went to a 'proper' war?"

"Basilio thinks so, yes." Olivia fidgeted a bit, and I felt bad. It did very much look like I was interrogating her, but I had no other chairs to offer. I should've just stood, but I had expected this to be a simple greeting, and now, it felt awkward to stand. "Most of the rebels are young. The older ones are rolling their eyes."

"I see." I nodded, resisting the urge to sigh. I hated that Ferox was suffering for helping us. "You also mentioned signs of Risen picking up again?"

"Yes, in the more isolated sections." Olivia clasped her hands in front of her. "It could be simply some from the original batches that weren't found. I would've thought the cold…"

"The cold should've frozen them. They're corpses." At the same time, though, perhaps the dark magic involved made them immune to that. "It's still troubling. That's the first sign of Risen since…" There had been no reports of Risen since Emmeryn's death. To suddenly have them again didn't bode well. "I fear we'll all be dragged to war again before long, if this is a new bunch." And if they were new, then Grimleal were involved. I knew how manipulative they were. Was this sudden rebellion their fault? Or was I just jumping at shadows?

"I'm sorry to bring you such news." Olivia smiled tentatively. "You should be celebrating."

"Chrom and I are waiting. It's fine." I made myself smile at her and pushed aside the troubling thoughts. My father was dead. Regardless of everything else, the Grimleal would have to be weakened because of that. I hoped. "Now, then, who is your next destination? Robin?"

"P-pardon?" Her face immediately went pink at Robin's name. "I… um…"

"That is quite the blush." I couldn't help but laugh and she looked away, blush deepening. "So, I suspected, but you're interested in my twin, aren't you?"

"I… um… er…"

"I'll warn you that he is horribly oblivious. It makes sense, but you might need to make the first move." I laughed again when her blush darkened further. "Alright, alright, I'll stop teasing for now. I do look forward to talking more with you though, Olivia." I turned to Cordelia, who barely hid her own snickers. "Can you escort her?"

"Certainly," Cordelia agreed. Olivia gave both of us a confused look, even as Cordelia led her out. "I'll be back momentarily."

"Tell Robin that I'm free tomorrow for lunch," I called after them. Cordelia waved to show she'd heard, and I settled back in my chair, giggling. Perhaps that had been quite mean, especially since Olivia and I really weren't close. Honestly, all I really knew about her was that she was shy, a talented dancer, a brilliant singer, a skilled cook, and Basilio's all-but-adopted daughter. And my brother's crush. For that reason alone, I really should get to know her better.

Still giggling, I returned to my work, balancing the budget among other things. As I worked, though, I noticed some movement by the door and looked up, curious. I frowned when I noticed it was two armed people, their clothing and weapons implying quite a bit of money. The poor grips they held the weapons, though, implied they weren't mercenaries.

"Well, well, do we have more traitor nobles?" I asked softly, watching them closely. Both simply glared in response. "Mmm, yes, now I think I remember your faces. You're among the ones that betrayed Emmeryn, and now you're… what? Here to kill me? Do you think I am the reason for your fall? I assure you; I had nothing to do with your sentencing."

They didn't answer. They simply advanced, doing their best to appear menacing. I gave them my drollest look in response and carefully reached into my drawer. Neither held themselves properly for a fight, and they didn't move as one unit. They walked stiffly, clearly not even trying to work together. In fact, one moved ahead.

"It really does surprise me the extent to which you people will try to deny your own fault," I continued anyway, still keeping perfectly calm. I felt for the cool hilt hiding in the drawer and waited for the first to come just a bit closer. "Killing me won't get your titles back, you know. This is a really poor plan."

The first one came within range. They tried to swing at me. But I had the dagger out before they did, batted their arm to the side, and slammed the dagger into their wrist, hard enough to actually pin it to the desk. Blood spilled out from around the injury, pooling under their arm.

"What the…?!" the second one yelped, taking a step back. Their companion was already sobbing, breath already thin and hissy from pain. "You… you have a…"

"Cordelia gave me the most lovely dagger for my anniversary," I informed them lightly. Indeed, she'd given it to me specifically because I had a habit of sending her off with messages and daggers were easier to keep near than a sword. "I love it so much I make sure to keep it on hand at all times." I leaned forward slightly, watching them. "So, what are you going to do?"


"You may continue to advance with that sword, but in close quarters, a sword isn't going to be as useful as a dagger." I tapped the hilt of mine pointedly before shifting my grip to make it easier to rip it out. "So, I am afraid that if you strike, I will have to use this one. But there are a lot of veins and arteries in the wrist. Important ones. Your comrade will bleed out very quickly as soon as I pull this out." I smiled slowly at them, perfectly poised. "I can also guarantee you that I have more fighting experience than you, and with that sword and the holes in your guard, I will kill you. So, your choice. Do you both live, or do you both die?"

"You…" Their voice shook. "Who do you think you are?"

"I am the Queen of Ylisse, and I suffer no one, least of all treacherous fools who think they can kill me so easily." My smile widened. "So, what's your choice?"

They dropped their blade and fell to their knees. I retrieve the sword and kept it by my side while I worked, only stopping with Cordelia walked in and helped me deal with them. When I told Chrom about it later, he laughed and laughed, calling me his 'Warrior Queen'. I blamed him when the people started calling me the same just a few days later.

A month or so after the rather pathetic assassination attempt, Chrom decided to visit Southtown, the town where Robin and I first met him, in response to hearing about some flooding damage. I went with him, as did Robin and all of the Shepherds. It was more than a relief, traveling about as we did. We even camped, like we used to.

When we prepared to leave Southtown, though, Anna insisted that we head further south. Confused, we did so, expecting trouble. Instead, though, we found ourselves quickly whisked onto a boat and sailing to a nearby island. It was only when we landed that we learned just what Anna had done: arranged us a day trip to the beach.

"I'm still so very confused by all of this," I muttered, walking the beach with Robin. It seemed Anna had an identical sister, also named Anna, who was setting up a resort on the island here, and we were the 'test subjects' for it. "I hope nothing happens while we're away."

"Same here," Robin sighed. Sounds of laughter from the nearby Shepherds, however, made us both smile. "They're having fun."

"That they are." I waved as I noticed a couple look our way. "Do you want to splash about the waves?"

"I'm pretty content with what we're doing, truthfully." He smiled brightly and playfully kicked some of the water by our feet. "Besides, I am in no hurry to wear those bathing suit things."

"Same, truthfully." I laughed, unable to help it. I didn't see the point of having clothes specifically for swimming. "I much prefer this sundress I'm wearing."

"It suits you." He grinned and I grinned back. He was dressed just as casually as I was. "Ah, I love wearing simple clothes again. Can I give the duchy title back?"

"You'll need to designate an heir. Otherwise, Chrom is right back to where he was."

"True." Robin groaned, shaking his head. "I just dislike it. We're both so busy nowadays."

"The stories never talk about the work peace brings." Still, I smiled. "You know; we've been with them for over a year."

"We have."

"This is the longest you and I have ever stayed in one place since Mom died." I skipped to the side a bit so that I could walk through the water more. It was cold around me. "I must admit; I'm afraid for them."

"Sister…" Robin smiled, and snagged me in a hug, resting his cheek against my head. "Relax. Even if someone comes to try and take this happiness from us, we'll simply fight to keep it. As I told you, we deserve happiness. You deserve happiness."

"I suppose." I stopped and turned around, watching the Shepherds from a distance. It felt both 'right' and 'wrong' to be so far away. "They're the first people to protect us and not die, Robin."

"We're strong together, Kestrel." He grinned. "Have a bit of faith."

"Maybe." I smiled teasingly. "But seriously, you say the cheesiest things with such a straight face. Olivia's here. Go say cheesy things to her."

"H-hey!" His face immediately went pink, and it went pinker when I nudged him to where she was sitting under a beach umbrella. "Whoa, hang on! I get to talk to you for the first time in forever!"

"You and I have been hanging out all day." I pointed to the horizon for emphasis. The sun was setting. "Honestly, Robin, I'm planning on heading to bed. I was up early talking with people and being the visible queen."

"True." He still sulked, though. "I love you, sister."

"Love you too. So…" This time, I just shoved him towards Olivia. "Go woo your pink princess."

"That's… that doesn't even…!" His face went redder and redder, and I laughed and laughed. "Ugh, you're horrible."

"I remember you attempting to tease me about Chrom."

"Ugh…!" He scowled, and I kept on laughing. "Fine, fine. Sweet dreams."

"You too." Still laughing, I skipped down the beach, heading back towards the 'resort' part of the place. As I did, I glanced around, mostly just checking that everyone was smiling. I paused when I noticed a particularly odd pairing, Gaius and Tharja, who sat very close to one another. Tharja was even blushing, which surprised me. I then shrugged and continued on my way, deciding it was only my business if someone made it my business. It wasn't like the rest of us were all pairing off or anything.

"Oh, where are you going?" Anna suddenly snagged me by the arm and started tugging me. "This way, this way!" she insisted. I frowned as we passed by the rooms and onto another path entirely. "And over here, and a turn here, and… ta-da~!" We took a sudden sharp turn, and she gestured grandly at a little house, away from the others. "This is where you're staying, Queen Kestrel."

"I am?" I asked, confused. I'd assumed I'd be with the others. "Why?"

"You may think of it as, well, an anniversary present. Since you and Chrom haven't really celebrated yet." She winked and pushed me inside. "I already cleared this with Frederick and Cordelia. You two will have the place to yourself!"

"…Suddenly, this trip makes so much sense." I laughed, unable to help it. "Conspirators."

"It works out because I didn't tell a single lie." She grinned, skipping off. "You go settle in. I'll bring your husband to you before long."

I waved her goodbye, and then actually looked about the little house. It had only one bedroom, as well as a kitchen and a bathroom, but it was decorated with brightly colored curtains, soft colored flowers, and beautifully polished shells. The bed itself was soft and simple, the only decoration a beautiful woven blanket. It was beautiful, really. The whole room was. It was nice and simple, yet gorgeous. It reminded me of a 'more put together' version of the house Mom, Robin, and I had lived in at Ferox.

"You think we can convince Anna to sell us some of the things in here?" Chrom's voice was soft in my ear and I glanced back to see him leaning against me, smiling softly. "Maybe the blanket, at least," he murmured, hugging me. He was still wet from the sea, and a little chilled. "Your eyes lit up at it."

"Reminds me of my mom," I whispered. I smiled sadly at him. "I'm still quite the simple girl at heart."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I love you. You give me all the happiness in the world." I sighed as he still looked sadly. "Oh, for goodness sake…" I twisted and pinned him under me, grinning. "I suppose I can show you."

"…Yeah, sure?" He laughed. "I'm afraid that you've already made my brain stop."

"Good." I leaned down to kiss him. "I love you."

"I love you too, Kes."

In the first weeks of autumn, Flavia got word to us that she and Basilio won the 'rebellion', but that stragglers might've made it to the border. A few days later, we heard of raids on said border, and we immediately marched for villages. Just in time, as they set one of the villages on fire.

"This way, this way!" I yelled, helping some children through the flames. Flavia and Basilio were fighting off the rebels, so we Shepherds were dealing with evacuating people and trying to deal with the fire. "And out we go!" I helped some children jump out of a broken window before following them quickly. A good thing, considering that the building began collapsing on itself shortly after. "Who, that was…" I coughed and stumbled a bit, feeling lightheaded. "Ah…"

"There you are!" Sumia caught me, helping me over to the side. "Oh, I knew I should've kept a better eye on you," she scolded, passing me some water. I tried to take it, but found myself strangely tired. "You've some burns… I should get you to a healer."

"Sorry, the plan hadn't been for that to be so close," I murmured, shaking my head. Unfortunately, it only made me more lightheaded. "A child ran up the stairs, and then I found more."

"You okay?" She peered at me worriedly. "Come on. You've been running about a lot."

"I must be out of shape if this is bothering me." I rubbed my temple. "Ugh…"

"Come on." Sumia wrapped an arm around me and helped me wobble over to where everyone was gathering. "I think we're almost good."


"Yeah." She waved to someone, but I stumbled again, feeling even more lightheaded. "Kestrel? Kestrel!"

I felt myself falling. I saw nothing but blackness for… well, it felt like a split-second to me. Based on how I opened my eyes to a ceiling and lying on a bed, though, I figured it was much longer.

"I fainted?" I groaned, pushing myself up. My vision blurred and I leaned forward. "Seriously? I fainted?"

"Ah, you're awake." A cool hand rested against my cheek and turned my face up. "How do you feel?" Libra asked, smiling gently. "Dizzy still?"

"A bit." I sighed, straightening. "I also feel pathetic. Really pathetic. Please at least tell me that I fainted while things were quiet?"

"You did. You mostly missed Flavia and Basilio tell us that they've won." Libra laughed softly and sat in a chair next to me. "You also missed the utter panic of everyone."

"Ugh…" I glowered at the blankets before closing my eyes again. "I'm nauseous. Did I breath too much smoke?"

"No, thankfully. That might've been bad for the baby."

"Yeah, I suppose… huh?" I froze and I gave him a weird look. Libra just smiled serenely. "Bad for the… what?"

"You should also be fair to your body. Lightheadedness and fatigue are common during the first months of pregnancy." He still continued to smile. "Your body is changing to accommodate the baby, after all."

"I… that…" I continued staring. It didn't quite connect. "I'm…"

"Congratulations, Queen Kestrel." His smile warmed. "You're with child. My best guess is that you're a month or two in."

"Oh." I was… I was what? Pregnant? Child? The sentence made sense, yet… "That's… um…" Tears suddenly filled my eyes, but I found myself smiling. "Ah."

"You're likely going to be very emotional as well." He patted my shoulder reassuringly and stood up. "Would you like me to inform King Chrom of the good news, or yourself?"

"You'd better." I coughed a bit and rubbed roughly at my eyes. "I'm… ah… still…"

"Need to rest. Healer's orders." He gave me another smile before leaving the room, closing the door behind him quietly.

Within a couple of minutes, though, the door burst open, Chrom stumbling inside. He stared at me for a moment before closing the distance between us, kissing me soundly and wrapping me up in a hug. "I love you," he whispered, kissing me all over my face. I couldn't help but laugh at the ticklish feeling. "I love you."

"I love you too, Chrom," I replied, placing my hands on his face so that I could kiss him back. "I love you too."

Notes on Anna:

Class – Trickster; Reclass – Archer, Mage

A quickminded merchant with a very large family of identical sisters who all share the same name. There must be some sort of conspiracy.

Fights more for self-defense than anything, her true skills is being able to get a bargain. Though she is quite quick.

Apparently well traveled, talking of different continents and a lover named 'Jake'.

Chapter Text

Interlude – Mother

I'm going to be a mother. The words are so strange, and I'm torn. On the one hand, I'm ecstatic. Just some bubbly happiness I can't explain, along with being happy that all my loved ones are also happy. Seriously, they're all smiling and happy, even if all of them have become mother hens.

At the same time, I'm terrified. I'm a Vessel. Will my child be a Vessel too? Will there be some sort of taint? Will they carry the brand? I'm scared. I'm so, so scared…

Libra became my 'official' healer fairly quickly after we returned to Ylisstol and we announced my pregnancy to the delighted populace. There were a couple of reasons for it. He was the oldest and most experienced of the three healers I knew, and he was also quiet and calm. Lissa giggled far too much, though I did love her cheer, while Maribelle would get sidetracked by fussing over everything the baby would need.

The third reasons was, of course, so that I could watch him casually flirt with Cordelia and then pretend to be confused when she started blushing and stammering. It was hilarious to watch.

"You two are so adorable," I laughed, once I was certain Cordelia had left. She'd been red to the roots of her hair and I'd shown a little mercy by asking her to let Robin know I probably wouldn't make it to our lunch. "I'm so happy for you two."

"It is a strange feeling, having such happiness," Libra murmured. He washed his hands in the corner, smiling. "But you know that feeling too."

"Yes, I do." To be so happy that you had no idea what to do… I felt it every day. "She's also just fun to tease, isn't it?"

"Extremely." He dried his hands, turning to face me. "So, how are you feeling?"

"Tired, nauseous, and I feel like my pulse is higher than a pegasus in flight."

"I see." He walked over and began carefully checking me over through staff and prodding. I had to fight to keep from squirming in my chair, and instead, tried to focus on the room. Unfortunately, it was just a plain room by the infirmary with no ornamentation. "You're still in very good health, so I believe it is simply your body still adapting to carry the baby."

"This is going to be a very uncomfortable few months, isn't it?"

"Very." He smiled kindly. "But we'll do what we can for you, okay?"

"Ugh." I made a face, and he laughed. "So, anyway, what do I need to…?" A knock on the door startled me, and I frowned. "Come in?"

"Sorry to bother?" Robin opened the door, smiling slightly. "I actually got done early, so…" he began, shrugging. "I can come back?"

"No, no, we just finished the checkup," Libra reassured with a kind, calm smile. "I was just about to leave."

"Oh, okay." Robin grinned. "Thanks, Libra. I think Cordelia was going to get something to eat."

"More like she was going to work. I'll get her." Libra shook his head, noticeably exasperated, but still, his smile was fond. "Until later."

"Bye!" Robin stepped out of Libra's way and closed the door behind him. "Now, I know you said you couldn't make lunch, but there's something I need to tell you!"

"Really?" I asked, curious. I thought about standing, but decided to just remain seated in the chair. It was by the window, after all, and had a pretty view of the courtyard. "What is it?"

"Well…" He fidgeted a little, blushing. "I… confessed to Oliva!" he blurted. He grinned as I stared. "And she said she felt the same! So, we're… what's the word? Dating? Courting?"

"That's wonderful, Robin!" I laughed, absolutely delighted by the news. "And here I thought you'd have cold feet forever!"

"I'm going to be an uncle. Nothing more terrifying than that. Save maybe becoming a father. Chrom's been fretting a lot." He flashed a grin, but let it fall for a serious look. "Happy news aside, I've also been worried. I don't think most have noticed, but I know something is wrong."

"Seriously? You don't have memories. How can you still read me well?"

"It's a skill I worked very hard to recover." He smirked and I rolled my eyes. "So?"

"I'm not going to be able to get out of this, am I?" I sighed when he shook his head. "I…" I hesitated a bit. It was hard to say. "…I'm scared."

"You'll be fine."

"Oh, I know that. I'm nothing if not durable, brother." I looked down at my still flat belly. "But I can't help but wonder if our lineage…"

"Oh, the Grima thing." He sounded so nonchalant, and I was tempted to smack him for it, but his smile was kind when I actually looked up. "I'm sure it'll be fine."

"And the Grimleal?"

"Your child will be of Grima and Naga both, shadow and light." He stood up and hugged me. "Heir to a country, beloved by many. I dare anyone try to harm them. It'll be fine. They'll be fine."

"…I hope so." I leaned into him and closed my eyes. It wasn't quite what I was worried about, but it was close enough. I could explain the real reason. Even now, 'we are Vessels of Grima' was a sentence that choked me whenever I tried to say them. "So, tell me more about how you confessed?"


It should have been simple. I'd just been walking to my study and had lifted my arms to stretch. But a sharp pang in my stomach resulted, and I got nervous. Perhaps I'd been overreacting, but I knew, from gossip, that miscarriages were most common during the first trimester. I was only three months in, and if I'd done something…

Libra taking it just as seriously soothed my nerves somewhat, but I didn't relax until I saw him smile. "I can find nothing wrong," he reassured me, resting a hand on my back. I breathed a sigh of relief. "I'd like you to stay near the infirmary today, though, just in case. If something happens, I can react far more quickly."

"Thank you," I murmured. I felt bad, taking up so much of his time. "In retrospect, I could have just moved wrong while stretching, or stretched more than I thought."

"Very true, and I think that's just what happened. But, again, you'll stay in a nearby room."

"Just in case."

"Libra, I heard Kestrel was in here!" Lissa swung into the infirmary then, bouncing on her toes. I'd sent Cordelia to let Lissa know I wouldn't make it to tea today. "Everything okay?" she asked, frowning slightly. "Looks like it?"

"A false alarm, we hope, but she'll rest for the day," Libra replied. He helped me stand up from my chair. "Can you assist with that?"

"I've got just the room." Lissa grinned and took my hand. "And a swing over here~!" She tugged me to a room only two doors down and ushered me inside. "You sit. I'll get the place clean and cheerful."

"Sorry about this," I told her, carefully sitting down in the lone chair. The only other place was the bed without sheets or a blanket. I almost laughed at how that lack bothered me; I used to just be grateful for a mattress. "Today is your day off."

"I see no problem with using it to help my sister-in-law!" she reassured, grinning. She darted out of the room briefly and returned with sheets, blankets, pillows, and cleaning rags. "Besides, all I really wanted to do was bug you about names for the baby."

"I haven't thought of names yet." I shrugged, watching her messily try to prepare the bed. My fingers twitched to fix it, but she looked so determined that I couldn't help but let her keep trying. "I just want them born without complications."

"Everything will be okay!" Lissa grinned at me before returning to her work. "So, names? Any ideas? You should come up with a whole bunch."


"My pardon." Libra poked his head in, carrying a piece of paper. I recognized it as where he kept track of my checkups. "I'd like to confirm something," he explained. "May I?"

"Of course," I reassured. It saved me from having to think of names. "Is something wrong?"

"No, nothing wrong, but something I need to confirm." He brought his staff over and carefully did another check up, frequently looking back at the paper. After a while, though, he smiled. "I'd like to keep an eye on it, but my queen…" His smile warmed. "I think you're carrying twins."

Lissa's squeal of delight nearly broke the damn window, but I couldn't help but laugh and laugh at the fact that I, a twin, was apparently going to give birth to more twins. What were the freaking odds?

"I'm not sure exchanging nausea for random bits of bleeding is a fair trade," I complained, spitting out a little more blood. "Ugh…"

"Libra said it was normal," Sumia helpfully reminded me. She pulled a coat around me and ushered me to a small table. "And the servants brought you a tea that should help."

"Ugh…" I half-glowered at the ground, feeling annoyed. "I'm just pregnant. I've endured countless injuries. Why is this enough to knock me down?"

"Because you're creating a life, remember?" Sumia giggled and adjusted my coat. "Think of it as being in battle constantly."

"Well, that'll explain why I'm so short of breath all the time." I growled a couple of curses under my breath, annoyed. Lissa even had to take over some of my work on orphanages and free lessons (with meals) for the populace. "This is going to get so much worse, isn't it?"

"Especially since you're carrying twins!" Sumia giggled and I just facepalmed. I had so much respect for my own mother at the moment. She'd dealt with the same while being surrounded by Grimleal. Though, she might've been just as spoiled. "Relax. It's okay."

"But you were supposed to be out on a date with Frederick today." She and Maribelle had the day off because I was supposed to be with Lissa all day today, and Maribelle had left late last night to spend the day with her father, introducing him to Lon'qu and the like. So, when I'd suddenly been unable to attend, Sumia had been stuck staying with me. Because Cordelia also had the day off, and was out with Libra.

"Frederick and I can go on a date another time." She smiled sweetly, but somehow, it only made me feel worse. "We were just going to have a picnic."

"Still, though…" Because Sumia was constantly with me, and because Frederick was constantly with Chrom, it took a lot of juggling to secure them a simultaneous day off. I hated it.

"Relax, Kestrel. Frederick and I are both glad to serve, and you don't really want to be alone right now, right?" She grinned and I reluctantly nodded. It was almost amusing how much I hated being alone, but then again, even at the worst, I'd had Robin with me. "See? Besides, the weather looks like it's turning bad anyway, so we'll just read. There's a new Ribald tale out, you know."

"I find it so funny that those books skip the pregnancy part of things." I grinned and finally reached for my tea. I paused, though, as my instincts flared. Something about this tea… it smelled off. It looked off. I couldn't even explain why. It was just… "Sumia?"


"What tea is this?"

"It was made by the cooks, to help you?" Sumia frowned when she noticed how stiff I was. "We've the pot right here. You want me to see what's in it?"

"…Yeah." I leaned back in my chair, staring at the tea. "Something feels off."

"I'll be right back. Don't touch it." Sumia disappeared down the hall, tripping only once that I saw, eyes blazing with determination. I waited stiffly, focusing on keeping my breathing as even as possible. I prayed that I was just paranoid, but I couldn't take that risk. I really couldn't take the risk.

Thankfully, Sumia returned fairly quickly, Tharja and Gaius in tow. Both Tharja and Gaius looked a little disheveled, with the hickeys on Gaius's neck hinting that they'd been in the middle of making out, but both didn't seem bothered by the interruption. Gaius even gave me a reassuring pat on the back as Tharja carefully shifted through the herbs in the pot and ran magic over the cup. It turned out that I'd need that reassurance, and that my instincts were more than correct.

"Herbs that induce miscarriage?" I whispered, feeling horrifically cold. If I hadn't already been sitting, I would've buckled. As it was, Gaius gripped my shoulder and Sumia brushed my hair back. "Really?"

"Quite a few, truthfully," Tharja confirmed, frowning over the herbs. "Granted, they're not all that effective on their own like this anyway, only about a fifty percent chance, and that percentage decreases significantly once you're out of the first trimester."


"Some of these, though, are poisonous. Not in this dose, but it could mess you up for a while." She looked at me, expression somewhere between blank indifference and quiet sympathy. "It's certainly a message, if nothing else."

"Someone isn't happy about the birth of royal heirs," Gaius murmured. He tightened his grip on my shoulder, and smiled when I looked up at him. "However, I'm sure they were careless. I'll track down who arranged this. Some of these herbs have to be expensive, right?"

"To get them in Ylisse, certainly," Tharja agreed. She crossed her arms, eyes narrowed. "A sloppy effort, but one nonetheless."

"That leaves tracks. May take a few months, depending, but I can track them. And I will. I promise." His smile faded. "But until then, you be very careful about what you eat and drink. No offense to your cooks, but have someone watch them."

"I can place a few curses, if need be." Tharja crossed her arms and smiled slowly, eyes glinting in clear threat. "I detest such sloppiness, and I detest such petty targeting."

"It'll be a busy few weeks, Sunshine." Gaius grinned back. I decided I'd at least try to be reassured. "We'll take these and get started. Servant brought it?"

"Yes, a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, and a scar on her neck," Sumia explained. She shifted to half-hugging me. I was still in a little bit of shock. "That's all I can remember, sadly. I only remember the scar because I wondered if she got it during the attack."

"It's enough to get started, Stumbles," Gaius reminded. He gave me another pat on the shoulder and removed the still-full teacup from the table. "Shall we, Sunshine?" The two left and Sumia shifted to hugging me outright. I clung a little to her, glad that I'd listened to my instincts and a little bitter that someone had wanted to hurt me that much.

It made sense. Not even the gods liked me, after all.

"My bras no longer fit," I grumbled, wincing. I'd been told that my breasts would swell up thanks to the pregnancy, but it was one thing to hear it, and it was another to realize there was no way I was stuffing my boobs into my normal bras, and not just because of the size. "I hurt…"

"Aren't you staying in bed today anyway?" Chrom asked. He hugged me from behind and kissed my temple. "You could barely get up today."

"This being too short of breath to do anything thing is really getting old." I sighed and leaned into him, sulking. "Seriously."

"You're carrying two babies, remember? That's a lot of work." He kissed my cheek and helped me back into my nightgown and under the covers. "You should rest."

"But I feel useless…"

"You're caring for our unborn children. That's far from useless." He sat on the bed and brushed the hair out of my face. "You're just frustrated."

"I am. Very." I hated being in pain. I hated feeling swollen. I hated feeling like I couldn't do anything without gasping for air. "This just sucks."

"I'm sorry." He kissed my forehead, my cheek, and my neck. I squirmed at the ticklish feeling, gripping his sleeve. "I'd take it away if I could."

"I'm just being whiny." I disliked all of this, really. Why couldn't that old story about 'the bird brought the baby to waiting parents' have been true? That would've been far too easy. "I'm sorry."

"Kestrel, you get to complain as much as you want." He smiled at me and ran his hand through my hair. "But you should really rest today."

"I've done nothing but rest." But he was also right. If I could barely get out of bed today, then I really couldn't do much else. "You have work."

"I do." He made a face and I laughed, unable to help it. "I'd rather be here reassuring you."

"You are the Exalt, and I will be most vexed if you put off work for me."

"I know." He sighed and got off the bed. I fixed his shirt and he smiled. "I'll try to swing by during lunch."

"You'll eat first and then if you have time. I don't want you cutting things short for me."

"I know; I know." He caught my hands and kissed them. "I'll be off."

"Have a good day." I smiled at him as he left and rested a hand on my stomach. As soon as I did, though, I felt a small 'fluttering' movement and gasped without thinking.

"What's wrong?" Chrom was instantly at my side, reassuring hands on my shoulder. "Do I need to get Libra or-?"

"Chrom." I took one of his hands and placed it on my stomach. A couple seconds later, his eyes widened. He'd felt that 'flutter' too. "Hee… they're moving about. That's going to keep me up, huh?"

"…I love you." He kissed me sweetly, and when he pulled away, his smile was bright and warm. "I love you very, very much."

"Remember that in later months, okay?" I couldn't help but tease, and it got me another kiss. "Get Cordelia in here for me, will you?"

"Okay." He left then with a definitely skip to his step. I laughed and laughed, amused.

Maybe this would all be worth it after all.

Strangely, in my sixth month, I no longer got quite as short of breath. I wasn't sure why that was, but Libra confirmed that my health was still 'perfect for a pregnant woman', so I went out to the market for the first time since I learned of my pregnancy.

"They're so loud," I murmured, flushing from all the cheers. Practically everyone had a bright smile for me. "I'm getting overwhelmed."

"Do you need to sit down, darling?" Maribelle asked. She had a firm hold of my arm, mostly to make sure the crowd didn't steal me away. Today, I insisted Sumia finally go on that date with Frederick, so it was just her and Cordelia with me. "There's a lovely café not far from here."

"I fear if I sit down, then I won't get up." I made a face and she laughed. "But if we could get a little more space?"


"I'm on it," Cordelia reassured. She began gently pushing people back, citing that I was finding it hard to breath. The children looked disappointed, and the man looked confused, but the women in the crowd… their eyes were filled with understanding sympathy. I smiled at them, and quite a few actually winked back. "Better?"

"Much," I murmured, already feeling a little less like I was about to drown. I glanced around the crowd again and smiled, noticing something. "Is Lon'qu following us?"

"He is?" Maribelle asked. She frowned and stood on her tiptoes, but smiled brightly suddenly. "He is! Silly man. He mentioned he was worried. Gaius hasn't found who tried to give you those herbs yet, and this is the first time you've been out."

"He can come join us, you know."

"He's bad with crowds." She giggled, hand coming up to muffle it. A ring I hadn't noticed before sparkled on it. "Very bad."

"…Why did I not see this ring before?" I pointed at it, frowning slightly. "You're engaged?"

"No, not yet. It's…" She giggled again, a pretty blush spreading across her face. "Think of it like a promise? He wants to move past his trauma a bit more before officially asking. Having a wedding as he is now… well, I can't elope. My father would cry."

"I see." I grinned and turned my attention to Cordelia, who eyed the ring with sparkling eyes. "And what of you, dear Cordelia?"

"Huh?" Cordelia yelped. She went bright red, and Maribelle and I laughed. "W-well, Libra and I have talked, a little, but…"

There was a flash of movement behind us. Cordelia reacted instantly, lunging to block. Shrieks echoed through the crowd, even more when Lon'qu burst out to assist Cordelia. Maribelle wrapped herself around me protectively as someone with a blade darted close. But Cordelia skewered them through the head before they could get too close, and Lon'qu literally disarmed another two.

The next couple of hours were a bit of a blur, mostly because so much happened at once, and I felt a little lightheaded. I was escorted back to the castle, to Libra for a checkup. Robin and Chrom both fussed. Actually most of the Shepherds did. Gaius took charge of the surviving attackers. It wasn't until Tharja peeked in on me that I found everything kick back in, and that was mostly because of what she said.

"You're going to use curses on them?" I asked, startled. And worried, because I knew what curses could do. I've seen them. Hell, I've used them. Rarely. I hated my magic. "That's…"

"Relax," she reassured. She even came over to gently touch my cheek, more gently than I would've expected. "I just know a curse that makes it so that they cannot lie. It'll speed things up."

"…Okay." I smiled slightly. I knew of that one. Mom had used it, once. "Sorry…"

"You're of Plegia. You know how dark these curses can go. It's fine." She smiled back and she actually had a pretty smile herself. "For now, rest. Let Gaius and I handle the dirty work."

"Right…" I glanced around, noticing that I was in my room, sitting in front of the fireplace. "Ah, this is a mess."

"You're a queen. People are always going to be threatened by you." She shrugged and her smile both warmed and grew a little wicked-vicious. "I'd say let them. You're no sheep to be shepherded about like your people. You're a Shepherd. Lead the flock. Or burn and eat them. I don't care."

"Tharja!" I laughed, unable to help it. "Ah, maybe I'll feel better when I'm through this pregnancy."

"Probably. My own mother mentioned that she was terribly emotional when pregnant with me." Tharja shrugged again. "Regardless, I thought you might sense dark magic and thought to warn you."

"Thank you." I smiled up at her. "Really, thank you. And pass my thanks to Gaius as well."

"Of course." Tharja left them, but I wasn't alone for long.

Olivia, actually tentatively poked her head in. "Hello," she murmured, smiling shyly. "Do you mind?"

"No, come in," I urged, waving her over. She closed the door behind her, and quickly sat down beside me. "What is it?"

"Well, I realized I didn't know much about you, and yet, I'm dating your twin brother?" She smiled shyly. "Though if you're too tired…"

"I am all for getting to know you better, Olivia." I smiled back. "All I really know about you is that you make Robin happy. Which, admittedly, is amazing in its own right."

"Oh, goodness!" She colored, but laughed. "Well then, let's talk?"

"Sounds good."

"Ugh… my back aches…" I muttered, shuffling oddly. Maybe I could've walked 'properly', but honestly, thanks to my rather sizable baby bump, a shuffle just felt appropriate. "This sucks…"

"Easy, my lady," Frederick urged. He was escorting me to the throne room, mostly because Cordelia had wanted to give the area one more good patrol to make sure everything was safe. "I apologize that you have to tend to this when you should be resting."