MATURE: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

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    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness



    So, after much contemplation, I've finally decided to post this here. This is my Fire Emblem fanfiction, Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness. As with my Zelda fic, this story has been in progress for quite some time, only this fic is meant to be a full-length novel for the Fire Emblem series, of which I am a huge fan. I've given the story a group on Deviantart, a wiki, and even a Facebook page. I've finished a lot of chapters so far, but I intend for it to be 50-55 chapters when it's complete. And that's not even counting the short series of bonus chapters I plan to add to it after that! (these will focus on a few major events that occur soon after the story ends) What can I say? I love a good long game, so I'll write a good long fic to go with it.

    Anyway, DoD is set a couple months after the events of FE: Radiant Dawn for the Wii. It follows the young mercenary Azura as she and her friends fight against evil forces that are threatening the continent of Altarais, a land long thought by Tellius to have been lost centuries before in the Great Flood spoken of in FE: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. Azura also fights against adversaries who seek the mysterious golden pendant she wears, the mysteries of which she also desires to solve.

    There are only a few canon characters in this fic, most notably Ike, Elincia, and Ranulf. Boyd and Soren come in later (I love Ranulf and Boyd, but I hate Soren, but Soren is a close friend of Ike's, so yeah). Geoffrey appears in the first chapter, then doesn't show up again. There are several pairings, most of them being OC since a vast majority of the cast is made up of OCs. IkexElincia is the only pair featured that is made up completely of canon characters. Ranulf will be paired with an OC. The rest are entirely OC. There are implications, however, of KieranxMarcia, BoydxMist, and RenningxLucia.

    Lastly, the story is rated M for a few...rather gruesome scenes, slight sexual references (though there are no actual sex scenes), and some swearing (mostly the words "damn" and "hell"). Oh, and as a bit of trivia of sorts, this story doesn't have a prologue in the sense that FE usually does. It goes straight to chapter 1 when it officially begins, and the actual prologue is more like the introduction of a Zelda game. This is meant to partially show how difficult the story would be if it were a game. Well, let's get this party started, shall we? I'll be posting a chapter a day at the quickest.




    Major Characters





    Table of Contents

    Prologue
    Chapter 1: A Broken Love
    Chapter 2: Missing Heroes
    Chapter 3: Rescue and Ruins
    Chapter 4: The Quest Begins
    Chapter 5: A Dead End
    Chapter 6: An Act of Thievery
    Chapter 7: Lost and Found
    Chapter 8: Onward and Northward
    Chapter 9: A New Path
    Chapter 10: The Forest of Hope
    Chapter 11: Friend and Foe
    Chapter 12: A Land of Canines
    Chapter 13: The Plight of Azura
    Chapter 14: Hero in Peril
    Chapter 15: Hope Arises
    Chapter 16: Seaborne Battle
    Chapter 17: Protecting the Cure
    Chapter 18: Storm!
    Chapter 19: A Second Plot
    Chapter 20: Unlikely Allies
    Chapter 21: The Prince of Astryn
    Chapter 22: The Arrival
    Chapter 23: Elhorhi's Noble Lady
    Chapter 24: Rising Morale
    Chapter 25: A Fatal Clash
    Chapter 26: The Red Claw Persists
    Chapter 27: Allied Command's Stand
    Chapter 28: Breaking the Barrier
    Chapter 29: The Blaze of War
    Chapter 30: Desperate Ambitions
    Chapter 31: A Traitor Emerges
    Chapter 32: Leyon's March
    Chapter 33: Forging Alliances
    Chapter 34: Another Trial

    Prologue


    It had been three years since the war known as the Mad King's War, where a noble hero named Ike fought to free his country of Crimea from evil, came to an end. Despite this great victory and the bright future it seemed to herald, the seeds of war had only been planted and budding during that bloodshed, and the worst was yet to come. A series of new conflicts stemming from that war soon erupted almost simultaneously, combining and escalating into the greatest battle ever seen on the continent of Tellius, where the armies of two goddesses, Ashera and Yune, fought one another for even greater purposes. After a long journey filled with challenging battles and unlikely allies, Sir Ike managed to defeat Ashera, free the thousands of victims of her Judgment, a period where everyone save for her army and Yune's were turned to stone, and bring peace to Tellius once again.

    Little more than two months have passed since those dark days ended...

    Somewhere to the west and across the ocean was the continent of Altarais, a land that remained unknown to nearly all of Tellius for several centuries. Certain events led to its re-discovery and natives of both continents, including the famed Sir Ike and a young Altaraisian mercenary named Azura, began traveling to and fro, developing trade routes quickly. However, talk of war had soon spread among the Altarais natives in the country of Talgria as quickly as a plague.

    Azura, the mercenary who possessed a beautiful gold pendant, worked ever more to hone her skill with the blade while a nameless foe dogged her every step.

    Sir Ike left Tellius behind to escape the pain of his lost love, whom had instead married another.

    A feline warrior named Ranulf accompanied the famous hero to give him hope and comfort.

    A queen named Elincia gloomily ruled over her nation, longing to find someone close to her heart.

    The meeting of these four heroes in Altarais is where this tale unfolds.

    ...And the beginning of a force that would decide the fate of the entire land.

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    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    And time to truly start this off! Chapter 1. :3


    Chapter 1: A Broken Love


    “Thank you…Ike…” she said. Just then, the two continued to gaze at each other, realizing how close their faces were. Ike’s expression gradually grew nervous, but Elincia could see why it was so. He’d probably never been this close to a girl before in his young life. Ike couldn’t help but smile at the beautiful young queen standing before him and in the next few seconds, his cheeks turned a rosy red. Elincia noticed it right away.

    “Hee hee. You’re blushing,” she pointed out, causing Ike to go red even more. “Whatever is the matter?”

    “Well, I…I…” he stammered, having trouble finding words.

    “Shhh,” Elincia interrupted, pressing a finger to Ike’s mouth. Her face slowly moved closer to Ike’s with every second, and moments later, her lips were suddenly pressed against his. Ike, whose eyes bulged wide at first, found himself returning the passionate kiss and let his hands curl around Elincia’s waist, pulling her close. Elincia’s arms wrapped themselves tightly around his neck.

    The moment felt like it would last forever as Ike and Elincia remained in their embracing kiss. In her heart, Elincia knew she loved Ike and no one else. Besides the fact that he was very handsome and they had shared a grand adventure together, Ike had taught and shown Elincia many great things about life that she had not thought existed before, things that not even her closest friends might’ve been able to show her. They also shared many things in common and shared similar dreams. And Ike had endlessly showed his passion for her and how much he had grown to care for her by defending her at any cost. He had even been willing to give his life up to ensure her dreams would come true. The two let go moments later, both with small smiles on their faces.

    “I love you,” Ike finally managed to say. Elincia knew he meant it too. She had suspected that he’d fallen for her quite some time ago and hadn’t known it. Thus, she knew she had to let him know how much she loved him. Elincia smiled and rested her head and hands upon Ike’s chest. Ike responded by keeping one arm around her waist.

    “Oh, Ike…You have stolen my heart as well,” Elincia admitted. “I will admit it. I’ve been in love with you since Gallia.”

    “That long, eh?” Ike replied, a bit of embarrassment in his voice.

    “Hee hee…” she giggled again. “At first, I was impressed by how handsome you are.”

    This statement caused Ike to blush again, and Elincia to giggle even more.

    “Then, I could only love you more after seeing your strength and courage in battle and your burning desire to fulfill my dream of a liberated Crimea,” Elincia went on. “You even spoke up whenever you thought someone was bullying me! I was forever grateful for everything you’d done and still am. And when you held my hand in the castle as we walked onto the balcony, I felt like the luckiest princess in the world.”

    Ike remained silent for a moment, his cheeks going even pinker again.

    “…Sorry, it’s times like this that I have no clue what to say,” he admitted, scratching the back of his head.

    “Oh, that’s alright,” Elincia replied with a smile. “I’d probably feel the same way, actually.”

    “Heh. Although, I will say that the reason I chose to do so much for you,” Ike continued. “Is that I was falling in love with you too. I just wish I’d realized it sooner.”

    Elincia wrapped her arms around Ike’s neck and kissed his cheek again before replying.

    “But you do now, and that’s all that matters to me,” she assured, not letting go.

    “I’m certainly glad of that,” Ike replied lovingly, putting a hand to her chin. Within the next second, he’d locked lips with her once more. They stayed embraced for moments on in once again. After parting and noticing how late it had become, they headed for the castle door, holding hands while doing so. The last time they had done this was the very same balcony scene Elincia described, making it a crucial moment for both. After exchanging a good night kiss, Ike departed back into the castle while Elincia stood at the doorway, many new thoughts probing her mind.



    The memory of the man she loved kept ringing through Queen Elincia’s head as she sat in her bedchambers within Castle Crimea. That had been her first kiss, in the moonlit castle gardens under the stars. It had been, admittedly, clumsy and awkward at first. This didn’t bother Elincia overmuch; if anything, she enjoyed the underlying revelation that she was his first love as much and he was her first. Their time together had been scarce, brief moments of joy stolen from the business of ruling Crimea and leading the war effort, but they were always worth the wait. After having lost so much, her parents and his, and enduring so much, two wars against unspeakable evil and seeing so much misery and death, their time together had allowed them to get something back and a shred of happiness that lightened their burdens and gladdened their hearts. But, even that was now denied. This train of thought reminded Elincia of a poem Bastian had been reading lately. She couldn't remember the poet's name, nor the exact quote, but it was about how there was no greater misery than to remember, with bitter regret, a time of pure happiness. Since her lover’s departure, Elincia felt the truth of this every day.

    It had been well over a month since she had last seen him, though it felt like years, and she continued to terribly miss him. Prior to his departure, a rumor had been spread about Elincia and Geoffrey, the commander of Crimea’s Royal Knights, that they were sharing a secret romance. Many people had jumped to such a conclusion because Elincia had to have several private war meetings with him that were focused on major conflicts involving their nation, as well as Crimea's internal security so that a repeat of the debacle with Duke Ludveck might be averted. When the news of her lover’s departure reached her ears, she could only weep in sadness, for she knew why he left. He must have heard the rumors as well and, wounded as she was, departed in grief. In truth, Elincia had no choice but to accept it and wed Geoffrey as her lord uncle, Renning, proposed soon after and there was no way the man she loved could have ever known that.

    As she often did, Elincia regretted that she and her lover had never made their love public. It began roughly three years prior to the events that led to the present during another conflict known as the Mad King’s War. The man had been given the title of Lord and made a general in order to liberate Crimea from Daein’s grasp. Since then, only a few of the Crimea nobility and a mercenary company known as the Greil Mercenaries had any knowledge of it. Neither group had spread the word at the request of Elincia and her lover, due to the life this man led. They feared there would be uproar of questions and even possible protest among the Crimean common folk as well as the remaining nobility if the truth leaked out. After all, this man was but a commoner himself who rescued Elincia in her time of need. Even his title of Lord had only so much merit since bestowing it was an act of necessity, one which he had objected to. It was not known if their relationship would be accepted, not to mention it even had to be put on hold after the man renounced his peerage to live as a mercenary. More than once, Elincia had considered discreetly reinstating him as a Lord but her fledging monarchy was soon mired in a series of crises that demanded her full attention and more.

    Even after everything that had occurred, Elincia still regretted having to marry Geoffrey, despite that she had little say in the matter. Geoffrey had been her next best choice in possible suitors and she would eventually need to produce an heir if she were to remain Queen. The truth was, however, that the two only saw one other as close friends with a bond as close as that of siblings. The only thing Elincia had left to remember the man she truly loved was a long, worn headband he once wore. Elincia now had it tightly gripped in her trembling hands. She’d gotten it from Oscar, one of Crimea’s knights, who found it in the fort that once belonged to the Greil Mercenaries.

    As tears began to fall down Elincia’s cheeks, she began to think of how other people she knew had stayed with the ones they loved. Sothe and Micaiah, the new rulers of Daein, were the foremost example in her mind. If Queen Micaiah could marry Sothe, a lowly thief of all things, why should Elincia be denied marrying a common mercenary? The more she thought about it, the more upset it made her. Why did she have to be the only one without satisfaction in the end? Her thoughts were lost when there was a knock at the door and Geoffrey walked in. He noticed the tears trailing down Elincia’s cheeks, easily sensing the reason why.

    “You miss him, don’t you?” Geoffrey surmised, though he already knew the answer. Elincia quickly turned around to face him. Though she tried to wipe away her tears, more coursed from her eyes in an endless stream.

    “Yes… Oh, Geoffrey, I’m sorry! I miss him so very much…” Elincia admitted, sobs choking her words to strangled whispers.

    “I…understand,” Geoffrey replied, though his tone suggested that he was not entirely happy to hear the queen’s words. “I will agree, it was clear ever since you returned to us near the end of the Mad King's War that you and Ike loved one another. I only regret you two could not have done so openly, for you two should not have had to hide anything.”

    Elincia was speechless for a few seconds, blinking bemusedly as guarded hope welled up in her chest.

    “R-Really? You don’t mind that you weren’t the one I fell in love with?” Elincia inquired, wanting to be sure.

    “I don’t mind at all, no. Our relationship has always been nothing more than platonic, has it not?” Geoffrey pointed out. “Those rumors were merely started by silly people jumping to conclusions. They should have realized that we would have to discuss what we were to do about Begnion and the Laguz Alliance bringing their conflict onto Crimean soil. But no…they did not. Those stories might have died down overnight, if only Duke Renning had not believed them. I cannot fault him for being so eager to see us wed, though I know it only tore you and Ike farther apart, quite literally. But…”

    Here, Geoffrey’s words trailed off. His gaze found one of the chamber’s windows and he gazed through it for a long, long moment. Elincia didn’t ask what he was looking at, for she already knew.

    These days, the carefree simplicity of life at the royal villa was on her mind often as well.

    “But what?” she wondered after a moment.

    “Well,” Geoffrey began again, a hint of reluctance in his tone. “It is clear to me now that you and Ike belong together. But, I must confess, I don’t like where this is going.”

    “Oh, Geoffrey…” Elincia replied, sniffling. “I had a feeling you’d say that. I know nobody wants me to leave, especially you and Lucia. I have enjoyed our lives together and you two always supported me. You both were like the older brother and sister I never had and I love you two dearly.”

    “Well, I’m glad of that and I thank you. But I don’t know what I’d do without you. I realize Ike must have felt the same way, perhaps even worse. But, it is my hope that I will have the chance to welcome you and Ike home.”

    This time, it was Elincia who fell silent. For a time, her moist eyes ran dry and a different emotion seemed to flood into her lambent orbs. Regret now seemed to mingle with her sadness and longing for Ike, and she was unable to meet Geoffrey’s gaze.

    She did, indeed, love the stalwart Geoffrey, the loyal Lucia, the eccentric Bastian and her indomitable lord uncle…and that was precisely why the words she knew she had to say would be so painful. As much as she loved her family, and her kingdom, she knew that this love did not alter a reality which she had to face. And, though it was as painful as it was clear, she did not shirk from it.

    “That’s something else I must speak about to you, Geoffrey,” she informed him, each word demanding an effort. “I may not be coming back.”

    Once more, silence fell between the pair. Geoffrey stared at Elincia, as though uncertain he’d heard right, and the mingled surprise and incredulity in his gaze pierced Elincia just as surely as the knight’s Brave Lance would have.

    “What?!” he blurted, startled by his own vehemence and remembering himself at the last moment. “I…forgive me, Elincia. But, surely you know you and Ike would be welcome here in Crimea?”

    “I know what I said must’ve hurt you…” Elincia replied, all too aware of how great an understatement that was. “But Geoffrey, I have other reasons for choosing to leave. You see, I have been doing a lot of thinking lately, and not just about Ike. I’ve been retracing my steps from since I was crowned nearly four years ago, and even beforehand, and I’ve found myself with little choice but to face reality: I do not believe I am fit to remain queen. Please, do not misunderstand me. I love Crimea and my people, and I am forever grateful for what everyone has done to aid me. But, even after…even after Ike’s encouragement, I knew that I was not suited to be queen. Still, I resolved to take the throne because I believed the rest of my family was dead and I didn’t trust any of the nobles with the crown. I still do not, in fact.”

    “Elincia, with all due respect, that’s nonsense. Your ascension to the throne was unexpected, that much no one can deny. But, you have risen nobly to the challenge. And, under very difficult circumstances, I might add.”

    Elincia tried to smile in reply to Geoffrey’s praise, but it looked more like a grimace and not a trace of levity touched her eyes.

    “You always were much too kind to me,” Elincia replied with a hint of melancholy. “But, I don’t believe I deserve your praise.”

    “I disagree. We could still be under Ashnard’s control, or the throne could have been usurped by Ludveck. We could have been annexed by Begnion, or torn asunder by the conflict between Begnion and the Laguz Alliance. Or, we could still be under Ashera’s Judgement. But, you led us through each and all of these crises. You’ve grown far stronger since the last war ended, many of your people adore you and they now believe in peace between the beorc and laguz. You should be proud.”

    “Perhaps, but I do not feel proud. I’ve shown weakness more times than I can count. What’s more, I wasn’t even raised to be a queen. My lord uncle was chosen to inherit the throne, and I know now that he was the wiser choice. My father and lord uncle did anger many people with their plans to pursue reconciliation between the races, but they were never faced with a full blown rebellion, whereas I was. What’s more, I have neither the political acumen of my father nor the forceful personality of my lord uncle. I’m far too hesitant to answer force with force, and I always had a great deal of trouble making difficult decisions.”

    Geoffrey shook his head grimly, still clearly disapproving of Elincia’s self-depreciating words.

    “Yet, you never once gave up,” he pointed out. “Many who faced the tribulations you did would have, and quickly.”

    “I likely would have given up if not for the people who had helped me,” Elincia countered. “Remember when Ludveck had captured Lucia and was about to execute her in front of us? I had no idea what to do. I knew that, if I conceded defeat to Ludveck, then he would surely undo everything my family worked so hard to accomplish. But, even though Lucia shouted that she would gladly lay down her life for my sake, I knew that I couldn’t bear seeing her be killed. I didn’t want to decide, I couldn’t decide. I would have failed, both Lucia and Crimea, had Ike and his mercenaries not arrived when they did.”

    “No one could fault you for being conflicted when faced with such a dilemma, Elincia…”

    “Perhaps, but that was not the end of it. When Begnion’s army sought to cross through our territory to attack the Laguz Alliance, I had hoped that Crimea could mediate a peace. But, I couldn’t stop either side from coming to blows. When I confronted Zelgius, I believed that laying down my weapon would convince him to stand down, but I should have realized that Valtome would not follow suit. If not for you and Ike, I probably would have been killed.”

    “Seeking peace is always a gamble; sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. But, there is no wrong in trying. And, you’ve tried harder than most. I fully believe that, were your father in your place, he would have done the same.”

    “Would he have done as I did during that flu epidemic that struck the castle a few years ago? We both know how the nobles resented my giving so much attention to ensuring the servants and guards received the treatment they needed.”

    “You said that saving lives, and preventing the outbreak from spreading, took precedence over the nobles’ petty grievances. I stood by your decision then, and I still do.”

    “I know you do, and I’m glad. But, I should’ve seen that a different solution was needed. Lucia had caught wind of Ludveck even back then, and my actions played right into his hands. And, not just then either. Ludveck captured Lucia and used her as leverage against me while she was operating under my orders. And, when he arranged that ruse to lure you away from me so that he could strike, I fell for it. He played me the way a bard plays a harp.”

    “Ludveck proved more devious than any of us suspected. Yet, for all his cunning, he was defeated.”

    “By Ike, not by myself. I haven’t been able to do much, if anything, on my own. I have tried to be as kind and generous to my people as possible, and to press the case for creating stable alliances with the laguz. But, it’s not enough. The people need strong, and decisive leadership from someone who can be effective as both a warrior and a diplomat…and, I am neither.”

    “Hm…”

    “And what’s more, I never even really wanted to be queen. To be honest, I much preferred our life in the royal villa. And, I think it’s no secret that we both miss those days. Back then, I felt like a normal girl. I enjoyed learning to cook, clean, sew, and use a sword. I liked being able to play with my friends and…to just be my own person. I wasn’t learning anything of politics or how to rule a country, and the people have suffered much for that ignorance. I believe that I am unfit to serve as their leader, and that my lord uncle is best suited to take the throne. I’m so grateful that he’s alive, for he knows how to balance being fair with being firm, and he will surely finish the work my father began.”

    Here, Elincia paused and cupped Geoffrey’s cheek with one hand. He seemed to flinch at her touch, but he met her gaze squarely.

    “I know that you must be disappointed by my decision, and I'm deeply sorry,” she intoned, her eyes misting. “But, I would not be doing this if I did not believe it was in the best interest of the Crimean people.”

    For a long moment, Geoffrey’s gaze drifted and his lips twisted silently as if seeking a counter-argument which he could not find. When he finally broke the silence, his tone almost sounded desperate.

    “But… Are you certain that abdication is truly the best course? And, for that matter, why hunt for Ike alone? Couldn’t we instead send out search parties to find Ike and explain everything to him? Surely he would return if he knew you still loved him. Forgive me if I speak out of turn, I want you to be happy more than anything. But I don’t want to let you leave either. And, whatever you may think of your “shortcomings.” I know that many others will agree with me.”

    “I’m sorry, Geoffrey, but I must go myself. This errand is mine, and mine alone. I ask no one else to undertake it in my stead. I love Crimea, and my people, and you, and the rest of my family dearly. But, I know that I cannot live without Ike and that the people of Crimea deserve better leadership than what I’ve offered them. I firmly believe that this is what’s best for them and myself.”

    Yet another silence fell between the pair but, rather than wistfulness or pleading, a different emotion gleamed in Geoffrey’s eyes. There was sadness and pained resignation, but there was a hint of something more.

    Something akin to, Elincia feared, disappointment.

    “…Alright, he conceded. “If it’s what you really want, then I will do what I can to help. Just know that I’m going to miss you terribly, as will everyone.”

    Elincia could feel her heart droop in her chest but, when he spoke again, his lips were curved in a valiant attempt at a smile of brotherly affection.

    “I don’t know if we’ll see each other again,” he said, and Elincia found herself blinking back tears at the truth of the words. “But, if you and Ike return, both of you will be welcome here.”

    Elincia was unable to prevent the tears from rolling down her cheeks again, though these tears were of burgeoning hope. She couldn’t restrain herself from getting up and throwing her arms about Geoffrey in a tight hug. As some of her sadness began to turn into excitement, Elincia’s thoughts raced to how Ike would react when she was finally in his arms again. She knew she couldn’t live without the man she loved anymore and had to seek him out, no matter what anyone else thought.

    “Oh, Geoffrey, thank you for understanding!” Elincia cried. Geoffrey slipped his arms around her waist and returned her hug. “And if we can come back, we will. I promise.”

    “Hey, as I said, I would do anything to make you happy,” he assured with a smile.

    “Yes, but…we don’t know where Ike is.”

    “I have a pretty good idea. You know how the continent of Altarais was recently discovered, right?”

    Elincia gasped at Geoffrey’s response. Altarais, of course! The continent of Altarais, once thought to have been destroyed in the Great Flood, had recently been discovered to the west of Tellius just as the conflicts had ended. Ships bearing merchants and explorers alike had already begun plying the waters between the two continents.

    “You mean he may have gone there?” she guessed. “I must find a boat!”

    “Now, not so fast,” Geoffrey said as he smiled again, though it seemed a bit forced. “Aren’t you going to pack a few things first?”

    “Oh, right, of course,” Elincia replied, somewhat sheepishly. “I guess I’m just so eager to go.”

    Without a moment’s hesitation, Elincia grabbed a knapsack and began stuffing the essentials inside, including Ike’s old headband. It had been the very same one he’d worn during the Mad King’s War, and which had accentuated his own unique charm. However, Ike’s whereabouts were far from the only thing on Elincia’s mind. The prospect of seeking him out had caused her longing for the hero of Tellius to bubble up in her until she felt ready to burst with heady exhilaration. She wanted to feel the warmth of Ike’s strong arms around her again, and she longed to gaze once more at his handsome face, into his storm blue eyes. And, above all, she craved to feel his lips on hers again.

    But this train of thought soon led to another. What would everyone she knew in Crimea think of her suddenly leaving her nation behind to be with a mercenary? She had banished the notion from her mind earlier, believing that her departure was for the best, but what if those she left behind felt differently? Of course, Ike’s former companions, the Greil Mercenaries, would not have a problem with it. They had known of the love between the hero of Tellius and the queen of Crimea for the longest time. Lucia, Geoffrey’s sister, as well as Bastian, the count of Fayre, had also known.

    But, in the three years between the two great wars, Elincia’s relationship with Ike had become a contentious matter between her and her adoptive siblings. Though Lucia had approved at first, her disposition toward the match had shifted when the matter of Elincia and Ike’s reputations arose. Lucia had urged Elincia to be cautious with her newfound lover, as word of any impropriety getting out could be ruinous. Thus, when Lucia and Geoffrey learned that Ike and Elincia had come within inches of having intercourse out of wedlock on two occasions, the aqua haired siblings had been mightily displeased. Geoffrey seemed willing to overlook her near-transgressions, but would Lucia be of like mind? Elincia tried to tell herself that her adoptive sister, who had been her closest friend since she was a toddler, would respect Elincia’s decision…but, she could not suppress a sense of trepidation at the thought of Lucia’s reaction.

    However, there were also the other nobles and Crimean common folk who Elincia knew had long supported her reign. What would they think of such a decision made by their queen? What would Renning think? As Elincia worriedly contemplated this, she blew out her breath in a melancholy sigh. Was she was really making the right choice after all? Upon seeing the conflict in her face, Geoffrey then approached her. He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder and smiled.

    “Elincia, do not worry about things here,” he assured. “I will admit, I had hoped you would have reached a different decision. However, I will see to it there that are no problems arising here from your decision. If Ike is the man you desire to be with, then it should be accepted. And I know Lucia will say the same.”

    Elincia blinked, startled by the mention of her adoptive sister. Again, Geoffrey seemed to sense her thoughts.

    “After the flu epidemic, I heard about the…row you two had,” he remarked, his face suddenly turning red. “She was very angry, but I think…I think that having Duke Renning back has forced her to see things for your perspective.”

    Something in Geoffrey’s blush suggested that Elincia most definitely did not want to ask for details. Still, she was not quite reassured.

    “Well, are you sure?” Elincia wondered. “What about my lord uncle? Or our friends from the Greil Mercenaries, Gallia, and Begnion? Even Daein?”

    “Lord Renning would want you to be as happy as I do, I can assure you,” Geoffrey replied. “That is, after all, the reason he arranged…our marriage in the first place, because he believed we were in love. I’m sure he would want your happiness. I cannot speak for Daein, but everyone else has some well-found respect for Ike, as well as for you. They would never stand between you two and your happiness.”

    “Yeah, that’s true. I guess that means Daein’s stance is the only one in question,” Elincia mused.

    “Well, speaking candidly, I’m not sure they would even care,” Geoffrey admitted. “That Micaiah seemed to be so stuck up and stubborn that she probably wouldn’t even notice Crimea’s ruler changed for ages.”

    “Haha, probably,” Elincia replied with a laugh. “And speaking of the throne, my lord uncle will need to know about this as soon as possible. But I’m not sure if I can face him.”

    “Hm… Then maybe it’s best for you to write him a letter instead,” Geoffrey suggested. “We also must write the annulment to our marriage and the terms of your abdication. I can deliver everything to him, if you’d like.”

    “Ah, that’s a good idea.”

    Elincia then quickly finished her light packing and grabbed some parchment and a quill. At first, Elincia found the task to be daunting. How could she explain, to a man who might as well have been her second father, that she was leaving for another continent and that, in all likelihood, they would never meet again? With Geoffrey’s urging, however, Elincia soon began to explain why she had to undertake this journey. She wrote about how she had first met Ike and their time together, from the Mad King’s War to a battle with wolf laguz and the search for the sword Ettard a mere month later, to the more recent Crimean Rebellion and the Laguz Alliance conflicts. After signing her name upon completion, Elincia and Geoffrey worked together to draw up the papers about their annulment and Elincia’s abdication. Elincia then asked that Geoffrey deliver the documents while she prepared for her departure. She threw off whatever she thought might betray her royal origins. Jewelry, head pieces, the translucent cape she wore, anything of the sort would be left behind. Once she was finished, she threw on an old dark brown cloak to disguise herself. It had been the cloak she always used in such occasions, more than a few of which related to seeing Ike. With great reluctance, she decided not to use her Pegasus, Gwydion, to fly to the nearest port. Though Gwydion had served her, and her great-grandmother before her, admirably in the wars, Gwydion was growing old and Elincia knew flying into port would only attract unwanted attention. While it pained her to think of leaving behind yet another friend, when those were few enough to begin with, she knew she was willing to make such a sacrifice to see Ike again and that Gwydion would be well taken care of in his old age.

    “Geoffrey…I’m going to miss you and everyone else,” she whispered, her voice choked with emotion. “I mean it. I wish Ike never had to leave Tellius…”

    “Believe me, so do I,” Geoffrey agreed. “And I…I promise that neither I nor anyone else will interfere with your relationship.”

    “Thank you…” Elincia replied. “Thank you so much, Geoffrey.”

    With that, they curled their arms around each other once more in one final hug. Though he vainly attempted to prevent it, a tear trickled down Geoffrey’s face.

    “…Good bye, Elincia. And good luck,” he choked out.

    “Good bye…”

    Their last hug had lasted only for a few moments, and Elincia immediately exited the room when they drew apart. Her last gesture towards Geoffrey was turning back one final time, a tear falling down her cheek. Geoffrey, meanwhile, took the letter, the annulment, and the abdication papers, but did not leave the room. He could only clench them tightly in his fist as more tears flowed down his cheeks.

    His tears, he knew, would be the first of many that would be shed when news of Queen Elincia’s departure spread throughout Crimea.

    Though it proved difficult to avoid the guards, Elincia ultimately made it out of the castle without being seen. She was glad that she had chosen to take Amiti with her as she strode through the streets of Melior. It was dark out, and traveling during the nightly hours could prove to be dangerous. Still, Elincia needed to arrive in Port Toha in the west by dawn so she would have plenty of time to find and board an Altarasian ship returning to its native port. Thankfully, it had been easy to leave Melior. The streets were virtually empty, shops were closed, and since the night guards were changing shifts, it was simple enough to avoid being seen. However, once the former queen finally departed the city, her fortunes took a turn for the worst. Elincia knew which way was west, but she had to travel through many wooded areas as well as small villages and towns, and all while ensuring that she was not recognized. As she followed the first forest path she came upon, Elincia’s eyes began to dart nervously in all directions. Though she had marched with the army in the wars, she had never traveled alone before; much less through a forest at night. Still, she had to make it to the port; if not for herself, then for Ike.

    As she clambered through a heavily wooded grove, however, a cracking noise echoed throughout the area. Elincia paused for a moment, sucking in her breath and her eyes roaming the dark landscape, but nothing appeared. When she took another step, the noise rang out again. Only, it was much louder this time. Elincia whirled and saw what looked like a squat mass of shadows which suddenly rose upward to tower over her. When she made out the gleam of sharp teeth dripping saliva, she realized what she was looking at. It was a brown bear. As a child, she had once wandered away from the Royal Villa and happened upon a pair of bear cubs. Not realizing how dangerous such creatures could be when they grew older, she had frolicked with them while her caretakers frantically searched for their missing charge. After she had been found, her lord uncle had been quite amused by the story, and had, Elincia suspected, purposefully riled a few people up by giving the small princess a stuffed bear.

    This bear, however, looked much, much larger than the cubs she had stumbled upon so long ago. It also looked far less friendly, for it drew back a massive paw that glinted with sharp claws. Elincia yelped and quickly darted aside to evade the attack. The bear’s claws whistled past her, tearing the bark from a tree just behind the former queen. Elincia felt herself blanch; if a blow like that landed, it would likely take her head off. Deciding that fighting the beast would be most unwise, she turned and bolted down the path in hopes that she could lose the beast and keep from becoming its breakfast. She did not want to fight it unless she had no alternative, as she knew that she could not hope to match the beast’s strength. Her best chance was to outrun it, and hope the bear caught scent of something more appetizing than herself.

    The bear crashed through the forest after her, the rumble of its pursuit causing the frightened former queen to begin running frantically. Pumping her arms for speed, and her legs a blur of motion, she did not realize that the forest around her had thickened and that the tree roots had begun to encroach upon her path. Before she realized it, a stray tree root caught Elincia’s foot. She toppled over and crashed to the forest floor. The bear soon caught up and, drawing back its paw again, swung at her legs. Elincia desperately rolled to one side, and the flashing claws dug into her cloak instead, allowing her to scramble to her feet and attempt to run. But, her cloak was still firmly in the bear’s grasp. Unable to undo the cloak’s clasp with her trembling fingers, Elincia bent away from the creature while it held her fast. The beast was strong, but the cloak began to rip and fray under the strain and eventually it tore, allowing Elincia to free herself. With the bear struggling to free its paws from the portion of the cloak that now shackled its forelimbs, Elincia made her escape.

    I am never going to look at that stuffed bear the same way again.

    Elincia ran for what felt like a mile before she was sure the beast had lost her scent. Gratefully, Elincia slowed from a headlong run to an exhausted halt. She was sweaty, dirty, and panting heavily, but the former queen caught her breath and pressed on. The next hour or so of travel passed without incident but, as the forest began to thin, clouds gathered in the dark sky. A peal of thunder shook the tree branches and rain began to fall. Elincia had a hood on her cloak, but it did little to keep her from eventually getting drenched. Still more hours passed, and by the time the sun began to rise, she was shivering heavily and looked as if she had jumped into the Ribahn River. Her thoughts felt distant and scattered, likely exhaustion from her encounter with the bear or an illness from the rain, or both. She had also very nearly run right into a bandit stronghold thinking it was an abandoned building she could use as temporary shelter. When she saw a group of ragged-looking ruffians carrying axes slink inside, Elincia had immediately turned away, lucky to have not been seen.

    After another few hours travel, she finally struck a road that she recognized. Taking care to ensure that her face was concealed by her hood, she followed it. Since the sun was only just coming up, there was little traffic and, of those camped on the road, all were either asleep or occupied with preparing for the day. Later still, as the sun rose higher and she was beginning to dry off, the call of gulls and the lapping of waves against the shoreline reached her ears. And soon, for the first time in days, a smile dawned the former queen’s face. Port Toha had finally come into view. After everything she had gone through the previous night, Elincia was finally going to be on her way to Altarais. And, from there, she would journey onward until she was in her lover’s arms once more.

    ***


    Why? Why, Elincia…? Why did all of this have to happen? Ike kept asking himself the same question over many times as he stood on a high rock overlooking the vast sea bordering the continent of Altarais. It was late in the day when the sun was on the verge of setting. It shined upon the large, open waters ahead, painting them red and gold. Why did you have to marry Geoffrey? Why did we have to keep everything about us a secret? Unable to rid his mind of the thoughts of his true love back in Tellius, the events leading to the separation of him and Elincia replayed over and over. The Crimean Rebellion that attempted to dethrone Elincia, the Laguz Alliance between Gallia, Phoenicis, and Kilvas going to war with Begnion and for a previously unknown reason, Daein, all played some sort of role. The rumors about Geoffrey and Elincia had indeed reached Ike’s ears, and when they had done so, he could not prevent himself from grieving and choosing to simply run away from the problem. His desire to explore, though truthful, had merely been an excuse and a vain hope that his wandering would staunch his heartbreak. Had Ike and Elincia not turned all their focus on the now-resolved conflicts and kept their relationship so obscure, Lord Renning and the Crimean common folk would have recognized that in truth, Elincia loved Ike.

    As Ike continued to watch the beating waves in the sea before him, another thought came to his mind. He wished somehow he could go back to Tellius to see Elincia again, but with her married to Geoffrey, he knew he could not show his face. It would only make matters worse and possibly cause even more rumors to start spreading. No good would come out of Elincia secretly seeing Ike while she had already married either. Ike's shoulders sagged under the weight of heartbreak and his gaze turned downward as he realized there was no way for him to succeed without causing trouble. Either he'd find out Elincia had discarded him in favor of Geoffrey or, even if she hadn't, he'd be faced with the impossibility of pursing his love with her since she was already married. Just then, a pair of footsteps came up from behind him. It was Ranulf, Ike’s laguz companion and close friend on his journey. He had left his home of Gallia to join Ike on the trip. Ike turned around to see the cat laguz standing there.

    “Oh, hey Ranulf…” he greeted in a depressed tone.

    “I figured I’d find you up here. You’re not sulking about the rumor incident again, are you?” Ranulf wondered. “I told you it wasn’t your fault.”

    “I know, but I still feel I could have made things come out differently,” Ike protested. “I wish I could just turn back time.”

    “Well, I don’t know, but listen, I know how you feel,” Ranulf replied. “You know, about Elincia and all.”

    “What? Ranulf, I love her. I could have had a life with her, had all these problems not happened. Sure, she’s of a royal bloodline, but I don’t care. Love takes priority over my distaste for the life of nobles and royals,” Ike stated. “Since when have you ever been involved in anything to do with love?”

    Ranulf heaved a sigh of nervousness before answering Ike’s question.

    “Well…I never told anyone this, but I…for the longest time I was stuck between Lethe and Lyre,” Ranulf admitted. “I couldn’t choose between either of them. Being twins, they were similar to one another and if you loved one, you can’t help but love the other.”

    “Oh, I see where you’re going with this. You chose to leave both so you didn’t have to make a choice.”

    “Exactly. I never even knew who I loved, let alone could I be with her.”

    “I see. Perhaps I’m not solely to blame, but then I can’t help but think Geoffrey is responsible too,” Ike replied. “I actually once thought he did love Elincia, but I never said anything.”

    “Well, I really don’t know about that either, but I can tell you that the rumors were definitely no one’s fault,” Ranulf assured Ike. “It was a gigantic misunderstanding.”

    “Yeah, you’re right,” Ike agreed. “I can’t pout about it forever, so I may as well set it aside for now. And let’s get going, it’s starting to get late.”

    ***


    As the days went by, thoughts of being with Ike again never left Elincia’s mind. After nearly missing last boat of the day to Altarais when she was leaving Crimea, she stood on the deck and looked out at the sea before her. Hopefully Altarais wouldn’t be too long of a journey, at least not any longer than the ocean voyage from Crimea to Begnion during the Mad King’s War, which was roughly two months. However, to her pleasure, the journey from Tellius to Altarais was said to be only a few weeks, due to the calm waters and the fact that this boat moved faster than the one Elincia and Ike had been on. As she remained on the deck, never taking Ike out of her mind while watching the sunlight sparking off the bay and relished the salty spray of the sea, Elincia wondered how Geoffrey was doing on the matter of meeting with Renning and ending the marriage, as well as her uncle’s thoughts about the letter. She hoped that he would understand everything that had happened was a mistake. She felt that Geoffrey was right that he would, but Elincia simply couldn't bring herself to tell him in person.

    Deciding to keep her identity of former queen to herself, Elincia, spent two more weeks aboard the ship in relative solitude until one night, when she returned below decks to turn in for the evening. The halls of the inside of the boat were full of people going to Altarais, either returning from exploring Tellius or having disembarked from Tellius to explore the newly discovered continent and having general conversation. As Elincia approached her cabin, a dark red-haired woman who appeared be no older than her had turned a corner into the hall. While in a run, she mistakenly bumped into Elincia, causing her to stumble. The woman swiftly caught her before she could fall.

    “Oh! I beg your pardon! I’m so sorry!” the woman apologized. Elincia simply smiled as the woman helped her up.

    “It’s alright, it was just an accident,” she replied. “I’ve…never seen you before. Are you from Altarais?”

    Before answering, the woman looked Elincia over as if the former queen was someone she knew, but hadn’t seen in years.

    “Why, yes, I am,” the woman confirmed, smiling back. “I’m Azura. What brings you here?”

    “Oh, I’m looking for someone,” Elincia explained. “That’s why I’m going to Altarais.”

    “You don’t say? You wouldn’t happen to be looking for a man named Ike, would you?” Azura guessed.

    Elincia’s eyes widened in surprise.

    “How…how’d you know that?!” she gasped.

    Azura smiled again and pushed back her long red hair, part of which had been set back into a ponytail. Her chest, arms, shoulders, and legs were covered with light blue armor, undecorated and clearly designed for mobility, and a sword was sheathed at her side. The sword caught Elincia by surprise, as it looked remarkably like one Ike used to use. Its red grip and silver hilt were all too familiar. Elincia had little doubt that it was a Regal Sword. Had Ike given it to Azura or did more than one of those blades exist? Whatever the reason, Elincia’s main thought was how Azura knew Ike at all.

    “Ah, you see, he is indeed there. I met him at the harbor we’re now heading for when he first arrived,” Azura explained. “He’s quite the acquaintance. At first, he wouldn’t tell me why he’d left home, but when I convinced him that he could trust me, he gave me his story. It was quite a tale. I had wondered why he didn’t seem happy when I first spotted him on the boat’s plank.”

    Azura went on to say that Ike had told her tales of his heroism in the Mad King’s War as well as a sword he once used, a blessed golden blade called Ragnell, and conflict between the Begnion Empire and the Laguz Alliance. Elincia finished off these stories by mentioning a few things Ike hadn’t told her, such as his duels against his former arch nemesis, the Black Knight and the Crimean Rebellion. It led her to begin talking of Ike’s noble heroism, his strength and skill, his kindness, his courage, and how he would have secret meetings with her which no one else knew of. She even spoke of his looks, describing him as handsome beyond all reasoning.

    “Heh, you really have it bad for Ike, don’t you…Elincia?” Azura guessed with a smile.

    “How…how do you know who I am?!” Elincia wondered with a gasp.

    “Oh, Ike has talked about you more than anything else,” Azura replied with a chuckle. “He misses you an awful lot.”

    Elincia turned her head and let her cheeks become a rosy pink color.

    “That’s my Ike alright,” she confirmed. “How have he and Ranulf been? I mean…assuming you met Ranulf as well.”

    “Oh yeah, we all know one another. Ranulf is just his catty self, sometimes playfully teasing us,” Azura replied. “Ike’s great, except when he mopes about leaving you.”

    “Ah, well this is exactly why I’m traveling all this way,” Elincia commented. “I’ve ensured that my people are in good hands. Being the queen of Crimea means nothing to me if I can’t be with the man I love at the same time. In fact, I don’t ever wish to speak of my royal blood again.”

    A few more days went by as Elincia grew to know Azura a little better each time they spoke. Ike had apparently talked with her a lot as well, as she knew more than Elincia had expected. She knew a little bit about the Greil Mercenaries, the aiding of the Laguz Alliance, and about the laguz themselves. Now reminded of another story, Elincia told her of the incident that had occurred with a new tribe, the wolves, just a month after the Mad King’s War ended. Ike was almost killed in the battle when he dueled the wolf king one on one, despite how strong he is even without Ragnell. Two of the few remaining wolves that had inhabited a country called Hatari had then been seen in Tellius during the aiding of the Laguz Alliance.

    “Wow. That must have been some battle,” Azura commented one early morning. “And a strong king too. Ike mentioned something about a skill he uses and trains with called…Aether was it?”

    “That’s right. Everyone likes to call it his signature move. He used it against the wolf king, but the king still had a lot of energy, despite how badly wounded the move left him,” Elincia finished. “Ike only barely brought him down, thanks to a lightning strike sending a boulder falling towards him.”

    Elincia continued by mentioning the incident where Ike was shoved to the ground and buried in falling pieces of rock from a cliff above, but his superior physical strength enabled him to lift the biggest rock off the top of the pile and throw it a short distance. The wolf king, along with a lot of his comrades, were bowled over and killed by the boulder’s impact. The wolf queen, Nailah, never indicated that she had any knowledge of the battle for an unknown reason.

    “Wow, seriously?!” Azura gasped. “I noticed Ike had quite the set of muscles, but I never pictured him doing something like that!”

    “Yeah, Ike is an amazing warrior,” Elincia replied, blushing and smiling at the same time. “That battle took a lot out of him though, he passed out from his wounds and losing a lot of blood. Rhys, one of the healers, managed to heal him but we feared he'd die from the blood loss. It was a miracle he lived.”

    “Well, thank goodness. It sounds like Ike had it real rough,” Azura interpreted.

    Elincia nodded in agreement as the two headed onto the deck that morning. The sun was shining brightly with few clouds soaring over head in the blue sky. A light, cool breeze blew across the boat as it continued its journey to its destination. Elincia peered over the front of the boat and could faintly see hills, trees, and mountains in the far distance. A smile formed on her face as she pointed to the sight of land.

    “Hey, is that Altarais?” Elincia inquired, turning to Azura.

    “Yep! We’re almost there,” she replied.

    “Oh, finally! Soon I’ll see Ike again for the first time in over two months…” Elincia gushed happily, tears of joy building up in her eyes. Perhaps Ike was still right there in town on the harbor, thinking of her at that very moment. She imagined how happy he’d be when she was in his arms again. Around a half an hour later, the boat finally began to pull into the dock. Elincia grabbed her bag from her boat cabin and bolted through the exit once it was opened. Azura followed behind, seemingly happy to be in her homeland again. The two came to a halt on a road in the little town called Galden at the coast of the nation of Talgria.

    “Okay, I’ve seen Ranulf around here in town a lot, so if we’re going to find Ike, we should look for him first,” Azura said, breaking the silence. “If we find Ranulf, we’ll have less trouble looking for Ike. He’ll know where he is.”

    “Ah, good idea. Let’s go!” Elincia agreed. “But wait, Ranulf is a laguz… The beorc here get along with them?”

    “Yeah, we do. The beorc and laguz of Altarais have been at peace with one another for a long time,” Azura explained as the two young women began their search in town for Ranulf, going down each road and alley way they could find. Despite searching for over an hour, however, the laguz was nowhere to be found. They even inquired if anyone had seen a blue-haired beast laguz wandering about in town, but no one could give them the answer they hoped for. Still, they kept up the search, hoping Ranulf would at least come into town sooner or later and tell them where they could find Ike. Almost suddenly, just as Azura and Elincia reached the outskirts of town, a group of what appeared to be bandits jumped out of nowhere from the woods ahead. The ring-leader cackled with delight when he set eyes upon the two women.

    “Well, well! Looks like we got ourselves a couple o’ girls askin’ fer some trouble, mates!” he glowered, noticing both were armed. “Let’s show ‘em what happens when someone gets 'n our way!!”

    Azura, betraying no more than irritation, glared at them and drew her sword.

    “I don’t think so, wise guy!” she retorted and charged at the leader. Since the he was wielding an axe, Azura had the upper hand with her sword due to better range and mobility, but it was unknown how strong the bandits actually were.

    “Elincia! I’ll hold these ruffians off! Keep looking for Ranulf!” Azura called back.

    However, Elincia had other ideas.

    “But what if you’re not strong enough by yourself?” Elincia protested worriedly, all too aware that the bandits had Azura outnumbered.

    “Don’t worry, I’ve handled guys like these a lot in the past!” Azura replied as she dodged the blade of an axe and drove her sword into the flesh of the bandit next to her. “Just go!”

    “Al-Alright.”

    Unfortunately, one of the bandits spotted Elincia as she began to flee.

    “Oh no ya don’t!” he shouted and ran after her. “Yer not goin’ anywhere!”

    “Elincia, behind you!” Azura warned, taking note of the situation. Elincia turned around, having heard what the bandit said.

    “Oh yeah? My blade says otherwise!” she retorted and stabbed the bandit right in his gut with her own blade, Amiti. He immediately fell from the fatal blow. Elincia then continued running as fast as she could back through town before any other bandits could try to stop her. Scrambling through the roads as fast as she could, Elincia frantically sought out Ranulf, hoping to find him or even Ike before getting totally lost, and lost in a town all by herself was the last thing she wanted to be at the moment.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    I think now's a good time for chapter 2!


    Chapter 2: Missing Heroes


    After their tense discussion some days before, Ike and Ranulf had spent their time plying their trade as mercenaries for hire in Galden and the surrounding land. The town had been suffering under incessant attacks by bandits, so work was quite plentiful. Thus, the two adventurers had set up a camp in a clearing near the town outskirts as a base of operations. Ranulf, in an attempt to put some semblance of a smile on his somber friend's face, had nicknamed the camp Fort Ike. Unfortunately, it did little to improve the depressed mercenary’s mood.
    Ike seemed no more cheerful as he and Ranulf shared a meal of salted meat and dried fruit, and Ranulf knew Ike well enough to know that his friend's silent despondence had nothing to do with the meager provisions. Ranulf didn't say anything however; Ike needed help, not pity, and Ranulf was drawing a blank on how to provide that, for the only thing that could cheer Ike up was a certain woman back in Tellius who had married another man. Ike, meanwhile, was mulling over what he and Ranulf had discussed about the rift between him and Elincia. He had spent several sleepless nights thinking about the emerald haired woman who haunted his dreams and whose memory would not escape him and, after fighting back tears on more than one occasion, he came to a realization. Ike didn't like the direction his life had been taking since they'd parted and he had to do something about it while there was still time.

    After all, having had as many brushes with death as he has, Ike knew beyond any doubt that where there was a will there was a way. Ike was shaken back to attention when he heard Ranulf drop his empty plate.

    “Hey Ike, I’m going back into town again to pick up some more food and supplies,” Ranulf informed him. “I’ll be back later.”

    “Alright, I guess I’ll go out back and train some more,” Ike decided. “Oh, hey, if you find Azura’s back from her trip, tell her I could use a sparring partner.”

    “Will do.” Ranulf agreed with a smile. He grabbed his beige handbag, strapped it around his waist as usual, and headed through the sparse undergrowth away from the camp, starting with the path into town. Ike finished his meal distractedly and, after vainly wishing for larger portions, unsheathed his sword Ettard outside and began to practice. Candidly, he was glad Ranulf had left because, although the azure-haired cat laguz was a good friend, he could be quite distracting at times. And, Ike needed to think. He was sure there was a way to see Elincia again, he just wasn't sure what that was. He spun his blade by the cross guard and swept it to a low guard with the professional ease of a veteran swordsman, remembering how Elincia had liked that bit of showmanship. He shook the memory, trying to focus on what he could do. Ike went through a flurry of slices and stabs, the moves so familiar that his arms and hands preformed them without the intervention of his mind, allowing him to devote his full attention to planning how he could see Elincia again. Returning to Tellius would be easy enough, merchants and explorers were sailing to and from there in stupefying numbers and it would be easy enough to buy passage. What he did when he got there though, that was the tricky part. Ike had often favored the direct approach, so maybe simply tracking down Elincia and talking to her would be preferable.

    And tell her what? Hey, let's make out? Ike’s mind quipped sarcastically. The notion was tempting, but Ike would not take Elincia against her will. He loved her too much for that. Though, of course, that train of thought led to another unpleasant one. What would he do if Elincia really had left him for Geoffrey? The thought turned Ike's stomach and chilled him to the bone, enough so that he began to thrust and lunge as if he could rend the idea to pieces with his sword, but Ike couldn't discount the possibility. He knew that Elincia and Geoffrey had grown up together and that she did think highly of him, recalling when she'd begged Ike to rescue Geoffrey from the besieged Delbray Castle during the Mad King's War, but how deep did those sentiments go? Geoffrey had always seemed respectful and loyal, if tightly reserved, around Elincia but maybe the man beneath that stoic mask of knightly discipline had emerged and charmed her.

    Ike's stomach nearly emptied itself at the heart rending implication. Another thought occurred to him, would going to Geoffrey be a better option? Ike had heard more than a few stories about dueling for a lady's hand, but rather doubted Elincia would be pleased with him and Geoffrey fighting over her, especially if one of them was injured. Would a more peaceful solution be possible? That, Ike supposed, would depend on whether or not Geoffrey liked Elincia more than he'd let on and that was an answer Ike simply did not have. After all, the disparity in their birth had complicated his relationship with Elincia, even if neither he nor she really cared, and the time they spent together was as scarce as it was precious. Had Geoffrey charmed her while Ike wasn't looking? Or, was Geoffrey as much a victim of the rumors as he was? If the latter, then Ike might be able to establish some sort of rapport with Geoffrey, but then what? It would help him determine where Geoffrey stood in all this, but would do little else except maybe ensure that Elincia would be well taken care of if she and Geoffrey were truly in love. That would give Ike closure and he wanted Elincia to be happy after having suffered so much in her young life, but knew it would be a bitter pill if her happiness was with another man. Ike set the notion aside as he began practicing parries and ripostes, turning his thoughts back to Elincia directly. Maybe she did still love him and marrying Geoffrey had been a political match, possibly one that could be counteracted, or maybe Elincia was lost to him and all he could hope for was closure. Either way, he simply had to know. Unless he found out, he knew the past would be only a bitter memory and his future a torturous path leading nowhere.

    Ike chose finish his practice with his signature move, Aether. He cast Ettard skyward, the blade spinning into a rising blur of deadly steel, and leapt into the air, caught Ettard by the hilt and came down to earth with a resounding, spinning slash that would've cloven a man in two. The move had saved his life more than a few times, especially against his nemesis the Black Knight. It had been quite the crowd pleaser too, since it was so powerful and so unconventional. When Elincia first saw him do it, she dropped what she was doing, although Ike couldn’t recall what it was, and applauded. He could hear it even now. The memory stung, a reminder of happier and simpler days now gone, and Ike tried to brush it away.
    Then, he realized that the applause he was hearing was real. Ike knew it couldn't be Ranulf, since even a speedy laguz like him couldn't get to Galden and back so quickly, and he realized further that there was more than one person clapping. Ike whirled to see a small group of men, each with an axe slung over their backs, clapping at him with snarky expressions on their shifty faces. Ike had seen far too many of these sort of people to not know what he faced. They were bandits.

    "Now that be a right bit o' showmanship," one bandit commented.

    "Aye, he needs to get 'imself a girl," another quipped, and Ike couldn't keep his eye from twitching at his words.

    "He can 'ave me sister," a third bandit offered, eliciting raucous laughter from his cohorts.

    Ike brought up Ettard to the ready, more irritated than alarmed at the intrusion. After all his battles, Ike ate brigands like these guys for breakfast. Still, he kept his guard up. His tactical mind had already begun sizing up the situation, and it wasn't pleasant. He had the edge in weaponry, but they had him outnumbered and the camp itself was the only real cover he had. Plus, Ike knew that the enemy making themselves known like this, when they could've taken him by surprise, meant they were either very confident, very stupid, or had a trick up their sleeve. Ike, suspecting the third possibility, kept his guard up.

    "What do you want?" he asked, not bothering to hide his displeasure.

    "Now that be right rude!" the first bandit groused, feigning indignation. "Here we are, just sayin' we like what ya can do with a blade 'n he goes and hurts our feelings."

    Ike was not known for his patience and it was wearing thin.

    "I'm already on a job if that's what you're getting at," he informed the group. "I'm not for hire."

    "Now, I ain't pardoned yer rudeness yet," the first bandit complained, ignoring Ike. "I be thinkin' you ought to give us a peace offering...like that sword o' yers."

    An intensity built up in Ike's storm blue eyes until an onlooker could swear that lightning bolts played about the blue orbs.

    "You can have it," Ike replied, the intensity in this voice matching that of his eyes, "through the gut."

    Ike lunged at who he suspected was the bandit leader, intent on following through with his pledge, when something struck him in the back of the head. It hit with such force that Ike's lunge turned into a forward stumble and the world began to spin. His legs gave way from under him and, just before oblivion claimed him, he felt the cool metal of Ettard's hilt leave his hand.

    ***


    Ranulf, unaware of the assault, had meanwhile switched to cat form and ran at top speed into town, then transformed back once he arrived, the only feline features remaining being his long blue tail and the pair of cat ears that sat upon his head. Galden looked as peaceful as ever with the morning sun shining down upon the town, sparking off the vast sea while a pleasant sea breeze wafted in from the harbor. Many beorc and laguz mingled around the harbor, working together to dock and tie ships and offload cargo while still others bartered for goods and services and still others milled about conversing amiably. As was often the case, Ranulf looked on with more than a bit of envy as the orange cloak draped around his blue pants flowed behind him in the light wind. Tellius had rarely been this peaceful; in fact, Tellius was rarely peaceful, period. Granted, King Ramon and his daughter, Elincia had put incredible effort into a reconciliation and a lasting peace between the races, but it could be generations before Tellius achieved the level of racial harmony Altarais currently enjoyed.

    Ranulf had been perplexed, but ultimately relieved by the lack of prejudice directed at him when he and Ike first arrived. However, he still missed his friends back in Gallia. Lethe and Lyre, the cat laguz sisters he had been enamored with but amongst whom he couldn't bring himself to choose one over the other, and the tiger laguz, Mordecai and Kyza, who had served under him. Skirmir, the new King of Gallia, sprang to mind as well. Skirmir was, Ranulf suspected, similar to what Ike would be had he been a laguz almost down to his table manners. Ranulf had not parted with them on good terms; Skirmir and Mordecai respected his decision, but Ranulf could sense they weren't happy, and Lethe, Lyre and Kyza had just about exploded. Of course, it hadn't helped that he'd caught them in the middle of what he suspected was a double date. While Ranulf had been fumbling with indecision, Lethe had grown closer to another tiger named Muarim and Kyza was making his feelings for Lyre known. If Ranulf wasn't sure before that he couldn't stay, that encounter had erased all doubt.

    Ranulf shook off the unpleasant thoughts as he entered the town market. The food vendors on the western side had grown fond of him and Ike for their work fighting bandits, perhaps enough so to offer a discount. As he made his way there, Ranulf kept his eyes open for Azura. The red haired mercenary, he knew, was due to return from Tellius soon. Perhaps she had some news about Elincia, which might help the despondent Ike. Or, maybe Ranulf could persuade her to return to Tellius to convey a message to Elincia. Ranulf rather doubted that Elincia left Ike for Geoffrey, but finding out, one way or another, might give Ike some closure and help him get on with his life.

    Ranulf eventually waded through the crowd to the vendors he'd sought and began sizing up their stocks. They sold the usual trail rations; salted meat, hard biscuits, waybreads, dried fruit, nuts, water and an assortment of herbs ranging from flavorful garnishes to preservatives. As he approached the stand, Ranulf could have sworn he heard the sound of someone calling his name in the distance. Thinking he was imagining it, he carried on, browsing the numerous food choices before him. However, his name rang out again. The voice was closer this time, coming from the distance to his right and it was clearly from a woman. It sounded so familiar, and when Ranulf placed it, the thought left his body numb and wiped words from his brain. But it couldn’t be her… Ranulf thought. Could it?

    “RANULF!” the female voice called again.

    Upon hearing it, Ranulf shook his head and caused the flaps on the sides of his thick orange headband to bounce, snapping himself out of his trance. He turned to his right and just as he thought, Elincia was racing down the path as fast as her legs could carry her. She skidded to a halt in front of the speechless blue cat laguz and caught her breath before speaking.

    “Elincia?! But…but—” Ranulf stammered seconds later, too shocked to form a complete sentence.

    “I’ll explain later. I’m just so glad I found you!” Elincia replied breathlessly. “Where’s Ike?”

    “Uh, oh, he’s at our camp on the outskirts of town,” Ranulf replied, still in shock, but all too aware of how much of a difference this would make for the dispirited Ike. “Gosh, he’ll sure be happy to see you.”

    “As will I,” Elincia concurred, a bright smile dawning on her features at the prospect of seeing Ike. “Let’s go!”

    “O-of course,” Ranulf stammered in reply.

    As the pair retraced the cat laguz's earlier path, Ranulf mulled over Elincia's inexplicable presence. He strongly suspected she had come all this way looking for Ike, and that smile gave more than a hint about her reasons, but her being here meant that she'd found out where Ike was and had left her throne in Crimea to pursue him. Still, Ranulf decided against asking for the moment. If anything could revive the old Ike, seeing her again would. Thusly resolved, Ranulf guided Elincia through the crowded market and back to the edge of town in fifteen minutes which felt more like fifteen hours. They traveled up the path that went by the camp, Elincia’s heart pounding with excitement. She couldn’t wait to finally be in Ike’s arms again after two months of veritable agony from his departure and couldn’t help but smile the entire way. The sight that greeted them, however, wiped the smile off her face and set her heart thundering with dread.

    The pair skidded to a halt to find the camp in ruins. What remained of the tent was scattered on the ground, torn to shreds that stirred weakly in the breeze. What was left of Ranulf and Ike’s supplies were scattered all about the clearing while their small table was overturned with two legs broken off, the two chairs that went with it also broken. The only thing that appeared to be missing, however, was Ike himself, and that worried Elincia more than anything else. She frantically scrutinized the whole area for her missing lover, but he was nowhere to be found.

    “What the—?!” Ranulf exclaimed as his eyes scanned the destroyed camp.

    “Ike! IKE!” Elincia called desperately. There was no response to her cries, making it clear that Ike was long gone. However, it wasn’t long before Elincia spotted something dark and pale red hanging from a tree branch nearby. Upon getting a closer look, she noticed it was a piece of Ike’s long cape. Elincia immediately plucked it from the branch and couldn’t prevent tears from escaping her eyes.

    “Oh, Ike, where are you?!” she sobbed, disheartened and frightened at the setback, as she squeezed the piece of cape.

    “We’ll figure this out, Elincia,” Ranulf reassured. “But where to begin…”

    Ranulf, sensing that Elincia was too distraught to think, began mulling over the possibilities. And, none of them were to his liking. The camp had clearly been ransacked, hardly surprising since he and Ike got their bread money hunting down bandits. Since they found Ike's cape, rather than his corpse, he clearly had survived the attack. Still, did he pursue the bandits or was he laying low? Or worse, was Ike taken prisoner? Ranulf was shaken back to attention when Elincia suddenly spoke up.

    “Hold on, I bet those bandits Azura and I met earlier have something to do with this!” she blurted.

    “Bandits? Azura?” Ranulf replied, raising one eyebrow in confusion. “You met Azura and some bandits?”

    “Yes, I can show you where they were. They were just over that way,” Elincia replied, pointing northwest. “Azura said she could handle them, though. I hope she’s alright.”

    “Yeah, let’s go,” Ranulf agreed. With no hesitation, the two started off in the direction Elincia had pointed and it took only minutes for them to arrive at the scene of the bandit attack. However, to their dismay, neither Azura nor the bandits were in sight. Only a mess of footprints was left in the dirt, and was the only thing for Elincia and Ranulf to examine. Upon looking closer, the footprints were seen to be scattered about, likely from the fighting, and then were headed in the direction opposite of that where Elincia and Ranulf had come. Elincia was still looking at the footprints, hoping Ike may have been there, when Ranulf looked up and noticed other strange patterns were left as well.

    “Yep, there was a struggle here alright,” he concluded, indicating the impressions his attention was focused on. “But this other pattern in the dirt shows someone was dragged away too. This isn’t good…”

    “Oh no! That means they’ve got her…” Elincia realized grimly, unable to keep an edge of worry from her tone. “I feared something like this might happen!”

    “Yeah, so did I,” Ranulf agreed. “We have no choice but to follow the trail they left. The tracks are recent, so we can overtake them if we hurry.”

    Elincia nodded with concern and followed the blue cat laguz up the path where the footprints trailed off. As they were going, Elincia couldn’t help but fear for both Azura’s and Ike’s safety. While Elincia had a great deal of faith in Ike's skill, this hardly stopped her from worrying. This land was a strange one to Ike as well as her and she had no way of knowing how many cohorts these bandits might have nor did she know their strength. Despite this, both Elincia and Ranulf pressed on, eventually passing by a mounted knight wearing green armor who had a mane of blue-green hair. Elincia immediately stopped to question him.

    “Oh, excuse me, sir knight, you didn’t happen to see a blue-haired man wearing a green headband and red cape come by here earlier, did you?” she asked.

    “Or some bandits and a red-haired woman with a ponytail who’s wearing light blue armor?” Ranulf added.

    “Erm…let me think…” the knight replied, cupping his chin in contemplation. “Ah, I believe I did see a man like that earlier heading in the direction you are, but I’m afraid I’ve not seen the bandits or woman you speak of. Not to mention he looked ready to rip someone’s head off. If you’re going after him, be careful.”

    “Oh, thank you! Ranulf, c’mon!” Elincia replied.

    Ranulf didn't hesitate to agree and the two continued onward. The knight simply watched them in slight confusion and resumed his duties.
    As Ranulf and Elincia continued to follow the tracks, they were led away from Galden and in a northwestern direction. A chain of mountains was visible in the distance, the closest one being about a mile and a half away and looking equally as tall. Still, the two pressed on, hurrying as quickly as their feet could carry them to find Ike, Azura, and the bandits. The tracks were beginning to disappear in places, however, which made things more difficult and Elincia suddenly found herself wondering if leaving Gwydion behind to enjoy his retirement had been such a good idea after all. Despite this, Elincia continued to scan for any hint of their quarry and eventually noticed a new set of footprints not seen at the site of the bandit attack. She almost immediately recognized who they belonged to and gasped upon her realization.

    “Ranulf! These boot prints are Ike's!” Elincia exclaimed, excited. “I recognize them anywhere! That knight was right, he did go this way!”

    “Really? You know what the undersides of his boots look like?” Ranulf replied, raising one eyebrow in confusion.

    “Well, you can never have too many ways of finding the one you love,” Elincia assured with a wink. “Besides, I often enjoyed talking with Ike late at night and, since he usually walked around the edge of the camp, that's how I found him.”

    “Hmm,” Ranulf quipped, his inevitably teasing tone becoming discernable. “A late night rendezvous between lovers? Please, tell me more.”

    Elincia blushed furiously but did not slow her pace.

    “I don't kiss and tell,” Elincia informed him, her incredulity almost believable.

    “Aha, so there was kissing involved,” Ranulf gushed, rubbing his palms together joyously. “Ah, the blackmail possibilities.”

    Elincia's face, by this time, had taken on the coloration of a rose garden.

    “Oh, shut it!” she snapped. “Besides, we were just trying to reconnect.”

    Ranulf decided to take her word for it and the two continued on, arriving at the foot of the mountain half an hour later. The first thing seen was a small village, much smaller than Galden. There weren't nearly as many people on the roads either, but Ranulf and Elincia inquired about their missing friends as much as possible. Fortunately for the pair, a vast majority of the answers they received said a man fitting Ike's description had recently come through there in a hurry. Desperate, Ranulf and Elincia started up the mountain, hoping Ike and Azura were okay, if both were there.

    Elincia found it troublesome to walk the rocky mountain trail without stumbling on the uneven ground every once in awhile due to her heeled shoes, though Ranulf aided her in keeping her footing. Since only Ike had been seen coming on that path, the two assumed the bandits had taken Azura in another direction so they wouldn't be seen. Still, they didn't lose hope of finding both of their companions safe and sound. However, the two hadn’t gone much farther up the trail when a group of men up ahead carrying axes caught their eye. Elincia recognized them as the same bandits that had attacked her and Azura and, to her dismay, there were a great deal more of them.

    “Ranulf, that's them!” she exclaimed. Ranulf turned his gaze to where Elincia was pointing.

    “Hm? Who's there?” one of the bandits asked, having heard the footsteps of the two. “Oh, a little girl an' her cat. How nice for ya to come and play.”

    With that, the bandit cackled and gripped his axe, ready for a battle.

    “Yeah, I bet they've come for that red-haired twit,” another added. “Well, ya ain't goin' to find 'er here! Hahaha!”

    “You don't tell us where she and Ike are and you'll face my claws,” Ranulf threatened as he transformed into his blue cat form.

    “Ike? We don't know no Ike. But with little Redhead out o' the way, our job here's done, ain't that right, boys?” the first bandit replied.

    The whole group agreed by letting out a small cheer, hefting their axes menacingly. Knowing now that they were obviously not going to comply with their demands, Elincia and Ranulf prepared to do battle. The group included eight bandits, each wielding an axe, which meant Elincia had the upper hand with Amiti. Ranulf was strong enough himself to handle them as well, and the two fought them one by one with ease. However, as they felled the bandits and continued traveling up the trail, more of them appeared. Still, they posed little threat to Ranulf and Elincia, especially since they soon spotted a familiar face standing on top of a cliff much higher up the mountain: Ike.

    “Ranulf, there's Ike!” Elincia exclaimed, pointing up ahead. She easily made out the swordsman's blue hair, red cape, and green headband swaying in the breeze that had begun to blow.

    “Oh thank g—wait a second, he's not armed!” Ranulf noticed with alarm as his keen eyes appraised Ike. It was true. Ike had no weapon in his hand or sheathed upon his back.

    “Now why would he go after bandits without a sword? That just isn't him!” Elincia protested, until realization sent her eyes bulging in their sockets . “Unless...they stole Ettard.”

    “What? Oh man,” Ranulf groaned. “No wonder Ike was angry.”

    “I won't disagree with that,” Elincia replied, suddenly feeling the barest hint of sympathy for the idiotic, unfortunate bandits.

    Both Ranulf and Elincia recalled Ettard being Ike's favorite sword. It was a two-handed sword with a strong, steel blade, which Ike was able to wield with one hand due to his amazing physical strength. The sword had been in Ike's possession since before the recent Tellius conflicts had begun.

    The last bandit between the pair and Ike wouldn't go down as easily as the rest. He was the one who commanded the others on the trail. His outfit was noticeably different and his axe was a steel axe, rather than an iron axe like the other bandits carried. Elincia and Ranulf worked together to vanquish him, with Ranulf attacking directly while Elincia backed him up. With Ranulf's speed, he easily evaded most of the bandit's attacks. Somehow, however, as Ranulf leaped for a finishing strike, the edge of the sharp axe had scraped his hind leg. It wasn't extremely serious, but still painful.

    “That'll teach you good fer nothin' rookies to meddle in matters yer noses don't belong in!” the bandit taunted. Ranulf scrambled back to his feet, the bandit's words summoning his ire.

    “Oh yeah, tough guy?” Elincia retorted as she skittered around the bandit to ram Amiti through his gut. The bandit immediately dropped to his knees and clutched his fatal wound.

    “Errg...the boss ain't gonna like this,” he gasped before his knees gave out and he fell dead to the unyielding stone. The few other bandits whom Ike was dealing with up ahead had seen their leader felled and, their morale thusly shaken, began to flee. Ike shook his fist at them as they ran in cowardice.

    “Hey! I'm not through with you yet!” he bellowed in uncontrollable, reverberating rage.

    Ike was about to pursue the bandits when he halted, thinking he was hearing voices behind him. Assuming he was just imagining it, he attempted to carry on, but the voices rang out again. He recognized one of them as Ranulf's, but the other was too good to be true. Ike jerked to a halt as he made out the second voice, unable to credit what his ears told him and the fleeing bandits instantly forgotten. No...no it can't be her...can it? Ike thought as he stood there staring off into space with his thoughts awhirl with confusion. She's supposed to be in Crimea. She married Geoffrey. Ike reminded himself of these facts and yet, her voice was still calling out to him and guarded hope began to stir within him. Soon the voices began to get louder and much closer until…

    “Ike! Snap out of it!” Ranulf exclaimed.

    Ike shook his head upon hearing his laguz friend's words, already thinking hearing her voice had been some cruel delusion of his adrenaline pumped brain, and turned to face him. And, his lower jaw nearly hit the ground when he saw that Elincia was really and truly there, running straight towards him.

    “Ike! Oh, Ike!” Elincia cried, tears of joy forming in her eyes. She collided with Ike's gut and threw her arms around his neck in a grip of desperate strength. Ike, stunned, numbly let his arms wrap around Elincia's smaller frame, still unsure if she was illusionary. The cool metal of her armor and the warmth of her cheeks, coupled with the sensation of her tears soaking his chest, made it clear that she was quite real. At this realization, Ike very nearly wept himself.

    “Elincia?!” he blurted, confusion and joy alike choking his voice away. “W-What are you doing here? How did you find me? What about Geoffrey?”

    “Oh Ike, I feel so awful about everything,” Elincia cried in near hysterics, tears falling down her cheeks. “You must have thought I left you for Geoffrey. But none of those rumors were true! I'd never ever leave you!”

    “Okay, okay, calm down,” Ike urged , continuing to hug her. “I believe you. I didn't want to believe the rumors either, but you marrying Geoffrey was such a blow that I couldn't bear to show my face in Tellius ever again. I feared people would get ideas if they found out the truth and...”
    Before Ike could finish his sentence, Elincia brought up one finger and pressed it against his lips to silence him. She was smiling now; it was a tired, sad smile but a smile nonetheless, and Ike felt one slicing across his features as well.

    “It's alright Ike, I understand,” Elincia interjected, her gaze suddenly lowering. “I'm so sorry about what I put you through. When my lord uncle heard those rumors, he arranged a match between us and the nobles and common folk only agreed with the idea. Neither Geoffrey nor I wanted it, but we had little choice...or, so I thought. I decided I needed to find you, regardless of cost. I still love only you, Ike, and I will forever. Oh, how I ached to tell you this!”

    At those words, Ike felt the weight of melancholy that had weighed on him ease by the barest degree. She really hadn't left him, but was she lost to him anyway?

    “Will you be going back to Crimea?” Ike asked fearfully.

    “Not unless you're coming with me,” Elincia replied resolutely. “I have abdicated, so I am no longer Crimea's Queen. Geoffrey took up the matter with my lord uncle, to see to annulling the marriage, and I left a farewell letter. Geoffrey also gave me the idea of where you might have gone.”

    Ike was unable to hide his astonishment; she had given up her throne, had given up practically everything, for him? Elincia seemed to read his expression, for she cupped one of his cheeks with her hand and smiled brilliantly.

    “I'd do it again given the chance,” she informed him. “I've lost much and had to sacrifice a great deal ever since the Mad King's War, but you are the one thing I cannot relinquish. Ike, I love you, more than my own life.”

    “I love you too, Elincia,” Ike replied, a smile dawning on his face for the first time in months. “I'm glad we were able to get back together again after all.”

    “Oh, me too!” Elincia gushed joyfully.

    With that, their lips met and, for a precious instance, they were back in Castle Crimea's garden falling in love again. As it was then, the kiss was clumsy and awkward but neither minded in the least. It meant that they were still each other's one and only and it wasn't as if they'd lack for practice from now on.

    Whether it was the transcendent joy of having Elincia back, the revivification of his spirit, or just adrenaline that compelled him to do so, Ike pulled back from the kiss but then swooped in to let his lips seek purchase on Elincia's neck. She responded by allowing her head to loll backwards before she leaned in to capture his lips again and sent her tongue across the threshold of their melded lips. Ranulf stood there watching while keeping an eye out for anymore bandits and, of course, further material with blackmail potential. He was glad to have been some aid in reuniting the two lovers who were sharing a kiss right in front of him, even if he was beginning to worry they'd rip each other's clothes off and go at it right there, and their evident happiness caused a weight on his own heart to lighten. Azura would have also been happy, if she'd been found. That train of thought shook Ranulf back out of his blissful trance, reminding him of their abducted friend and destroyed camp, and urged him to interrupt the pair.

    “Hey guys, I really hate to interrupt this heart-warming reunion,” Ranulf cut in, jerking Ike away from his ministrations upon Elincia's neck. “But what in the world happened to our camp? Ike, it's a disaster!”

    “Oh, right. Yeah, about that, Ranulf, I apologize,” Ike replied sheepishly as he and Elincia disentangled themselves. “I was training when these bandits showed up. They said they wanted my sword and, well, I'll give you three guesses what I told them.”

    Neither Ranulf nor Elincia needed to guess, so Ike continued to explain that he wanted to stop them, but before he had a chance, he was slugged in the head from behind, causing him to fall unconscious. When he awoke, Ettard was gone. Luckily, the bandits had been careless enough to steal food as well and left a trail of crumbs and then later, footprints which made them easy to track. Ike followed them to the mountain trail, thinking they stole his sword.

    “We figured that explained why we found you unarmed up here,” Ranulf replied. “You're going to have to find a weapon again soon. You can still use axes, can't you? Why didn't you steal one from them?”

    “I'm not a thief, Ranulf,” Ike retorted with a chuckle. “Although, I suppose I would've had no choice if I was still on my own, but now that you two showed up, I may be fine.”

    “Possibly. But Ike, we'd better go find those thieving madmen soon,”“ Ranulf warned. “They've taken Azura hostage.”

    “What?!” Ike gasped, the feeling of shock running through his body at blinding speed.

    “Elincia knows what happened,” Ranulf replied, motioning the former Crimean queen to tell the story. Elincia nodded and began.

    “Yeah, I met her on the boat coming here and she was helping me track down Ranulf when those bandits attacked,” she explained. Elincia continued, describing how she'd felled one of the bandits and then being urged by Azura to flee the battle and find Ranulf. She finished by describing when she and the cat laguz discovered the destroyed camp. The last thing mentioned was the set of footprints where Azura and Elincia first met the bandits.

    “And the impressions in the dirt suggested they kidnapped her?” Ike inquired, making sure he'd heard correctly.

    “That's right,” Ranulf confirmed.

    “Then we have no choice but to take the same trail as those cowards. If we're lucky, we can overtake them before they reach their hideout and get Azura back. If we're not so lucky...well, we've battled our way through worse. This way,” Ike directed, showing them the path the other bandits had used to escape. The two followed behind him, all three very curious about why the thieves had taken Azura captive and what they were doing to her. None had any answers, save one; they had to rescue her and time was of the essence.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    Now for chapter 3.


    Chapter 3: Rescue and Ruins


    The trail proved to be lengthy and gradually led to another side of the mountain upon which Ike, Elincia, and Ranulf traveled. The trio hurried along the trails to find themselves in yet another mountain town at a fortunate time. Although they had no time to pick up any supplies, the threesome knew it wise to ask for directions or clues that could lead them to Azura before any serious harm came to her. Ike was desperate to retrieve his stolen sword as well. He brought his hand to the back of his head as he traveled, as the blow he had taken at the campsite was causing it to throb. Elincia soon took note of Ike’s gesture and frowned.

    “Ike, what’s wrong?” she asked, concerned. “You look like the injury that knocked you out is still painful.”

    “Oh, don’t worry, it’s nothing,” Ike reassured. “I’ve taken much worse. Remember when I told you what Boyd ended up doing to me a long time ago?”

    “…Ah, right,” Elincia replied, recalling the story about Ike’s hotheaded mercenary rival striking Ike in the head with the back of an axe blade by mistake a few times, or so he claimed. While Ike had been lucky to not get his head sliced open by the blade itself, the rounded backside had still been able to create swollen lumps of purple and red that stood out from Ike’s unruly blue hair and cause him great pain until he had it healed.

    “I remember that story!” Ranulf added almost ecstatically. “It just goes to show that the great Ike is literally hard headed!”

    He chuckled at his joke.

    “Oh the irony,” Elincia added with a giggle, knowing Ike had always been a man with an open mind.

    “Haha,” Ike sarcastically retorted, folding his arms. “I must admit though, I’m surprised I could come out as fine as I did after being bashed in the head three times in one month and by the back of an axe no less.”

    “Yeah, but what matters is that you’re still the same as before,” Elincia pointed out with a smile.

    “Indeed,” Ike quipped with a charming smile.

    After getting directions from a friendly outdoor food shop worker, the trio quickly continued through the town’s sloped roads to reach the outskirts. Although several villagers glanced at them in both curiosity and confusion, the three could only ignore them due to a friend’s life possibly being at stake. They found themselves traveling down yet another sloped path, this time heading fairly upwards again at a steep incline. The end of the trail soon led Ike and company to what appeared to be the bandit stronghold, a large camp situated in a vast little valley comprised of many rawhide tents of varying sizes. A large tent stood in the very back, most likely serving as the quarters of the bandit commander. Ike, Ranulf, and Elincia kept themselves hidden behind an outcropping of rock nearby and began to discuss what their next move would be.

    “There it is…” Ike noted in a quiet voice. “I’m sure they have Azura somewhere here, but we’ll have to nose around to figure out exactly where.”

    “And how do you propose we do that? Bandits are everywhere and only two of us can fight,” Ranulf pointed out. The laguz was far from incorrect. Wherever they looked, there were bandits patrolling the camp, some wielding the usual axes, but others could be seen wielding swords as well. The bandits looked like they just might be expecting them, and that did not bode well. There was no way Ranulf and Elincia could take them all by themselves and guard Ike at the same time.

    “Hey, don’t think I didn’t learn anything from Soren,” Ike replied with a chuckle, referencing the tactician of the mercenary company he once commanded. “I’ll go—”

    “Hey! You there!” a voice shouted from the distance, cutting Ike off. The threesome turned around, worriedly expecting to see a bandit sentry they’d overlooked who would raise the alarm, to see the very same knight whom Ranulf and Elincia asked for possible information on the whereabouts of Ike and Azura. He gripped an axe in his right hand this time, clearly prepared for battle as his green tunic flowed in the wind. Accompanying him was another knight, a gray-blue haired woman with her hair set into a ponytail over her shoulder. In her hand was an iron lance while purple armor and a light blue tunic clothed her body. Her pale brown eyes indicated an expression just as concerned as the blue-green haired knight.

    “Shush! You’re going to give us away!” Ranulf warned. But it was too late.

    “Hey! I think we got intruders o’er there!” one bandit shouted from nearby. The knights halted their horses in front of Ike and company.

    “Blast! I apologize. I didn’t know you were hiding,” the man admitted, a bit sheepishly. “I’ll make this quick. I’m Marc. I figured you two were in some kind of trouble after rushing off back there, so I explained things to Leona here and we came to help. These ruffians have you far too outnumbered. Your blue-haired friend doesn’t have a weapon either.”

    “The bandits stole mine, but there’s no time to talk right now. We need teach these clowns a lesson!” Ike insisted. Everyone agreed and formed up in front of the bandit camp. Ike took the rear so he could safely sneak by into the main tent and retrieve Ettard, if it was there. Elincia stood by Ranulf in the middle while Marc and Leona took the front. Being knights of Altarais, they obviously had more experience with fighting these bandits, so it was the logical strategy. Around fifteen or so bandits had positioned themselves around the area in an attempt to defend it from the group.

    Now with four capable fighters, the battle was surely an even match. Although Elincia predicted they would be a greater challenge than those she and Azura had met near town, she could not be positive how much tougher they would be. While Leona aimed for the sword users, as her longer ranged lance gave her an edge over them, Elincia targeted the axe men due to her sword giving her the advantage over their shorter ranged iron axes. Marc and Ranulf served as backup and took care of any enemies that sought to outflank Leona or Elincia. Ike quietly snuck past the commotion in order to reach the large tent at the end of the valley. He motioned the others to wait outside, signaling that he had a plan. While they fought the remaining bandits off, Ike crept into the tent unseen. The leader of the bandit stronghold was standing at a table inside having a conversation with one of his underlings. Ike recognized the underling as one of the same ruffians who had infiltrated his own tent near Galden and, resisting the urge to start busting heads, quietly crouched behind a crate nearby. Using the bandits’ voices to gauge their position and movements, he waited until they were a good distance away and slowly rose to sneak a glance at the table’s contents. Unsurprisingly to Ike, the object of interest was none other than Ettard, its long, steel blade reflecting the sunlight shining through the tent’s draped opening. Ike stayed where he was and eavesdropped on the conversation between the enemy commander and his cohort.

    “Hehe, you lads did a mighty fine job stealin’ this if what ya told me about the guy it came from is true,” the leader commended. “This blade is one of a kind fer sure. It oughta fetch us a pretty penny.”

    “Aye, indeed,” the bandit replied. “That guy looked strong. We had to knock ‘im out cold in order to git away with it.”

    “Then we need to be more cautious around characters like ‘im from now on,” the leader concluded. “They’re more likely to have loot such as this!”

    “Yeah, I kinda thought we were done fer once he caught us too, but he turned out to be easy,” the bandit replied with a chuckle. At that, Ike grimaced in anger and balled his right hand into a fist. Ready to reveal himself, he leaped out from behind his hiding place.

    “Hey, I believe you have something that belongs to me,” Ike announced, leveling an accusatory finger at them.

    “What?! ‘Ow did he follow us ‘ere?!” the bandit leader exclaimed.

    “You left an easy trail,” Ike replied, not bothering to hide his displeasure. “Now if you want to make things easier on yourselves, you’ll hand my sword over right now.”
    “Hahaha! And ‘ow do ya expect to deal with us without a weapon, mister high ‘n mighty?” the other bandit asked with a laugh, as if Ike were stupid. Ike, before he responded, only let his already angered mind become even more agitated by letting out a growl that would’ve even impressed a lion laguz.

    “That’s it! You obviously don’t know who you’re dealing with!” he angrily shot back, bringing his fist before him. “Everyone, now!”

    Elincia and Ranulf sprung out from underneath the tent while Leona and Marc blocked the entrance. The bandit leader and his cohort simply stood there, turning around to find themselves completely surrounded. Ike soon caught a glimpse of spare axes lying inside one of the crates in the tent and immediately plucked one of the steel ones out.

    “And how about that? I’m armed again,” Ike pointed out almost humorously, still retaining the skills he’d learned about using axes in battle during the war against Ashera. “Now hand my sword over and tell us where Azura is!”

    “Yer not gonna know that until ya go through us first!” the leader retorted. He took his axe and clashed with Ike’s. Ettard was still on the table, nearly forgotten about in the chaos. However, with all the people swinging weapons, dodging and plowing into each other in the small tent, it began to tear up and collapse under the abuse. Elincia drove Amiti into the gut of the leader’s cohort, causing the bandit to crash into the tent walls harder than they’d already been hit, soon knocking the entire shelter down. Ranulf’s opponent had nearly at the same time found himself plowing into the table Ettard still sat upon, overturning it and causing the sword to skitter across the rocky ground and towards a nearby cliff. It lay there unnoticed until Ike saw it, but the bandit leader apparently spotted it as well and maneuvered to place himself between it and Ike. Ike, his frustration growing, clashed with the bandit leader hoping to knock him aside or down to clear a path to Ettard. However, just as he had driven his enemy near the crate of extra axes, Ike found himself getting sharp blades thrown at him like there was no tomorrow.

    The bandit leader’s supply of axes quickly diminished as Ike had moved about in every direction to dodge them. The leader tossed the last two when Ike, not realizing it, was standing in front of the cliff Ettard was laying near, and ducked to avoid being struck. The axes collided with the rocky cliff wall with so much force that the axe became embedded in the stone and a budging noise was produced in seconds. Cracks began to web out on the surface of the rock, sending pieces of it crashing down before anyone could realize. Ike, unable to do anything because he’d jumped out of the way to dodge the last axe, watched as a particularly large rock plunged right down on top of Ettard. It had been massive and hard enough for its impact to snap the blade right in two. Ike, without hesitation, shoved the bandit leader aside to the ground and quickly pushed with all his might to remove the boulder from atop his sword, only to find his prized blade in two pieces. He instantly turned around with an angry grimace on his face.

    “DAMN YOU!” Ike shouted with anger. "NOW I'M REALLY PISSED OFF!"

    Ranulf and Elincia stood there with frustrated and worried looks.

    “Oh boy. Now they’re really in a world of trouble,” Ranulf commented, deciding to stay out of what remained of the situation.

    “You can say that again,” Elincia agreed. “Stealing Ike’s favorite sword got him angry enough, but breaking it right in front of him? We’d better stay out of his way.” As Elincia and Ranulf spoke, Ike vindicated their assessments. He snatched up Ettard's hilt and, moving so fast he seemed to teleport from the broken sword to his victim, plucked the bandit leader by the shirt collar and drove the remaining blade through his gut. Upon watching Ike and hearing what Elincia said, Marc raised one eyebrow and gave a signaling nod to Leona. Ike was now watching the remaining bandits, whom numbered only a few, run off in cowardice.

    “Yeah, you’d better run!” Ike threatened and then turned to face the rest of the group. “Well, now thanks to these imbeciles, I still have no sword.”

    “Sorry that had to happen,” Marc offered sympathetically. “That looked like a unique and powerful weapon.”

    “It is. It belonged to my father before he robbed himself of his ability to use a sword. From what I know, it was quite an expensive and rare blade that had been passed down for generations,” Ike explained as he went and picked up the other half of Ettard, his tough hands unbothered by grasping the sharp blade. “My father’s dead now, but I can’t help feeling terrible about letting this happen to the sword that’s been in my family for so long.”

    Ike went on to explain that he had grown tired of using so many steel swords and silver swords until they broke under the abuse, usually at inconvenient times, and that he wanted a special blade to himself. He felt more like he’d be the fighter he had come to be that way and began searching for the place where his father, Greil, had hidden Ettard after slashing the tendons in his sword arm. It took weeks full of effort and thinking, as Greil kept his secrets in life as well as death, but two months after the Mad King’s War ended, Ike discovered the sword buried deep underneath the base of the mercenary company he once belonged to, directly below loose floorboards in the back of the main building. It was found in near perfect condition, thankfully, and after dusting off the old sword, Ike took it up as his own and had been using it since.

    “At first I wondered why my father hadn’t just directly given it to me,” Ike went on. “But then I decided perhaps he didn’t think I could use it yet. After all, I was still an inexperienced mercenary when he died.”

    “Wow, I can see why you’d treasure the sword the way you do,” Marc replied. “By the way, did she just call you Ike?” He motioned towards Elincia.

    “I believe so,” Ike replied, not having completely heard what Ranulf and Elincia were saying earlier.

    “I knew you looked familiar!” Marc exclaimed, his expression turning into surprise. “I’ve been hearing in town lately, mostly around the harbor, about a blue-haired man with a green headband and red cape who became the famed hero of a distant land. They called him Ike.”

    “That’d be me alright,” Ike confirmed. “I’m shocked at how quickly the word spread from Tellius though.”

    “So you’re the legendary Ike?” Leona said. “What we heard was true then. Some townsfolk in Galden were saying something about you once wielding this great sword…what color did they say it was? Golden? And I also recall someone saying it was a two handed sword, but you’re strong enough to wield it with one hand.”

    “Oh, they must have been referring to Ragnell,” Ike confirmed. “It is indeed a golden two handed sword that I used in battle for a time. Twice, actually. Though I kind of miss that blade now, to be honest. I felt more successful with it.”

    “I see. We’ve heard a lot about you recently,” Leona explained. “After people from Tellius started to come here, one of the first stories heard from them was all you.”

    Leona went onto say that the tales of Ike saving Crimea from Mad King Ashnard and defeating the goddess Ashera were passed on by tongue quickly enough to spread throughout Talgria within weeks. The tales had only recently begun to reach the nobles and royalty in the Talgrian capital of Aracion. In addition to the stories, it was also said that Ike helped forge a peace between the beorc and laguz nations of Tellius as well as stop a power hungry wolf king from taking over a severely weakened Daein not long after the Mad King’s War ended.

    “Gosh, Ike, you’re more famous than we thought!” Ranulf added teasingly. “But we’ve been here two months…I wonder why people haven’t recognized you.”

    “Oh, I bet they have, actually,” Marc corrected with a smirk. “They’re just too shocked to say anything or don’t want to…well, interrupt you in your hero business.”

    With that, Marc let out a chuckle.

    “Well, although what you’ve heard is all true, I have no desire to be a general again,” Ike replied. “I’m happy being a simple mercenary.”

    “Speaking of mercenaries, other people said you were the leader of a mercenary company as well,” Leona commented.

    “Ah yes, the Greil Mercenaries. That’s the company I mentioned earlier,” Ike explained. “My father founded it, but I took command after he was killed in the Mad King’s War three years ago. Though, as you might have guessed, some of us left after Ashera was defeated. I often wonder if deputy commander Titania and the few remaining members are doing alright.”

    “So everything we heard was true…” Marc murmured, stunned. “Amazing.”

    “Indeed!” Ranulf agreed. “But back to business. Did anyone see any sign of Azura?”

    Ike sighed while everyone else shook their heads in frustration.

    “Where could they be keeping her…?” Elincia wondered.

    “If these are the same bandits that took her, then she can't be far away,” Ike piped up. “Besides, you told me the bandits we ran into before meeting me said it was their job to deal with Azura. If they were hired to kill her, they would've done it already and, since they weren't, that means they must have her nearby.”

    “But, are these the same bandits?” Ranulf wondered. “And, if they are, then where'd they put her? The only things in those other tents are bedrolls and axes.”

    “’Tis beyond me. I say we split up and search this whole area,” Ike suggested. “Elincia, you and Leona come with me. Seeing as I’ll be going axe for awhile, having a sword and lance around will prove helpful in case we run into more trouble.”

    “Hey, that’s right. Or perhaps you’ve made a change of heart and just want the women around?” Ranulf replied in a jokingly manner.

    “…Yeah. Get real, Ranulf,” Ike retorted, folding his arms and remembering how some girls used to flirt with him in Tellius.

    “Oh come on, I was kidding. That’s a good idea,” Ranulf offered in a placating tone, still laughing in his head. However, before the group could go their separate paths, a female shriek suddenly echoed throughout the mountain trail, followed by a masculine voice. Since it was too far away to make out any words, Ike and company hurried down the path ahead to investigate instead of splitting apart. It took little time to reach the entrance to a small cave from which the voices came. One of the two sounded like a female, but before anyone could say anything, the voice rang out again.

    “Oh no you don’t!” it exclaimed. “I’m not going to be prisoner to the likes of you idiots!”

    Ike immediately gasped when he recognized who the female voice belonged to.

    “Hey, that was Azura. C’mon!” he urged. The group followed Ike inside and when they hadn’t gone very far in, they spotted the red-haired swordswoman, bound and struggling against two bandits. Her captors were apparently trying to pull her into another section of the cave but had found this far more difficult than they had envisioned, for Azura pulled against their grip with astonishing strength. One of the ropes she was bound with snapped under the abuse, swinging into one bandit's face like a whip. Azura used her momentum to tug at the other rope and finally broke free from the bandits’ grip, but lost her balance and fell to the floor. The bandits, clearly intent on venting their displeasure upon their stubborn prisoner, met their end when Ike and Ranulf immediately seized the two and brought them down almost instantly. Azura, wondering what had just happened, quickly scrambled to her feet to notice Ike and the others there.

    “Ike! Guys!” she cried with relief. “You came to rescue me?”

    “Yeah, what on earth happened with you and those bandits?” Ike inquired, telling Azura he’d heard part of the story from Elincia.

    “Oh, not long after Elincia left, more bandits showed up and suddenly grabbed me by my arms. Eventually, I grew too exhausted and was dragged off to this cave,” Azura explained. She went on to say that the whole thing had simply been a diversion until she wore herself out too much to fight back. There had been no point in trying to get away after that, as they had her tied by her hands behind her back the entire way to the cave. However, only a few of them remained to take her away. The rest of their cohorts headed in the opposite direction.

    “Those must have been the guys who beat Ike,” Ranulf guessed with a chuckle.

    “Shut up!” Ike retaliated. “Some surprise ally of theirs knocked me out at the camp and you know it, Ranulf!”

    “Yeah yeah, I just wanted to brighten up the moment a little,” Ranulf excused himself, unable to rid his face of his punchy smile.

    “Whatever. Go on, Azura,” Ike replied, his arms folded.

    “Uh, okay. Anyway, I struggled to break free, but eventually I managed to get my sword out and cut the rope. They never noticed. That’s why I was able to break out of the rope so easily,” Azura finished. “What happened to you, Ike?”

    “Oh, you mean what Ranulf bullied me about,” Ike replied and repeated the story he told his companions earlier.

    “Well, this has certainly turned out to be one heck of a day,” Azura commented. “It’s a good thing you guys showed up though. Even if I did manage to defeat the two bandits that were here, I’d have never gotten through their camp by myself.”

    “Well, looks like we made good timing then,” Ike deduced with a smile. “It was really thanks to Marc and Leona though. If they hadn’t shown up, who knows what would’ve happened to us back there. We were greatly outnumbered and I had no weapon.”

    “Oh, aren’t you two Royal Knights?” Azura observed as she turned to Marc and Leona themselves. “I’m so relieved you were around.”

    “That is correct,” Marc confirmed. “I apologize for not letting you know earlier. We wanted to make sure we didn’t interrupt any of the fighting again.”

    “Don’t worry about it. You did what you had to do to help us,” Ike replied.

    “That, and the fact that it’s our job to protect the people of Talgria,” Leona reminded Ike with a smile.

    “And it seems you do it well,” Ike complimented. “Azura, are there anymore bandits around here?”

    “Not that I know of, but I need to show you something. I discovered ruins back here after I escaped,” Azura reported. “Beorc ruins, by the looks of it.”

    “Ruins? That’s sure an odd thing to find at the end of a cave. Let’s check it out,” Ike replied. With that, the group made their way through the cave, which was not very long and just barely high enough for all to walk without hunching over. At Leona's insistence, and Marc's chagrin, the horses had been tied up and left at the cave entrance.

    “Do you want your horse stepping into a crevice in the rock and breaking his legs?” Leona asked Marc in a patronizing fashion.

    Marc’s only reply was a growl, which grew louder when Leona flashed a grin. The end of the tunnel was only minutes away, and when the group made their exit, they saw Azura wasn’t kidding. The tunnel opened up into a small valley nestled in the peaks and, in the center, was the ruins of a small town, many of its remains appearing to have been built of wood and stone. The village was situated in a hilly region, with some buildings much higher than others and stairs carved into the rock offering passage between the levels. While the village was clearly simple and modest, it did have a number of opulent fountains, long since dry and a beautiful temple rose atop a plateau near its heart. Ranulf walked ahead and examined the closest building, which appeared to have been a small house.

    “Yeah, these are beorc ruins alright. The laguz have no reason to settle for buildings the like these when we’re capable of creating better structures,” he concluded. “What I’m wondering is who lived here.”

    “And what happened to them and the village,” Ike added. “Let’s take a look around. Perhaps the rubble preserved some clues.”

    With that, the group split up to explore the ruined village, which appeared to have been roughly the same size as the town Ranulf and Elincia had passed through to go up the mountain. There were a number of what had no doubt used to be shops and other services in what might have once been a plaza, but the majority of the buildings appeared to have been small houses. A select few other buildings were unidentifiable, too badly damaged to be clearly identified, but mortars and pestles as well as scraps of tomes suggested they might've been apothecaries or magic shops. Much of the village was too dangerous to explore, the long neglected support beams of more than a few buildings groaning ominously, and what buildings could be examined offered no clues as to the fate of the village. Even bodies were nowhere to be found. However, upon closer inspection of one of the shops, Marc observed darkened markings laid upon the wood and let out a curious grunt.

    “Hey guys,” he called in a concerned tone after returning his attention to the group. “Something devastating must have happened here.”

    “Whatever do you mean, Marc?” Elincia wondered after approaching the building Marc was examining. “Like a natural disaster?”

    “No,” Marc replied, his voice making no change. “I’m talking about a full scale attack.”

    “Seriously?!” Azura gasped, instantly turning her attention to Marc’s words. “How can you tell?”

    “These buildings were obviously burned down,” Marc pointed out. “Just look at the dark color on some of the wood remains. On top of that, this area is surrounded by rock and little foliage, so it definitely couldn’t have been some random wildfire. With these fountains, a small fire would have been easy enough to put out. And I doubt a normal house fire would end up destroying an entire village along with its inhabitants.”

    “Yeah, good point,” Ike agreed as he took a glance at the general location once more. It was indeed encased in mostly walls of rock and mountain that should have provided the village with amble natural defenses, but it didn’t.

    “And look here!” Ranulf added, pointing to the remains of a few larger buildings. “These stone pillars didn’t slice themselves. They all have clean cuts right through their centers.”

    “And the only thing capable of that kind of work would be the sharpest axe you can find,” Leona pointed out. “I think Marc is right.”

    “But this village looks like it used to be so peaceful. Why would anyone want to deliberately massacre it?” Elincia wondered.

    “And for that matter, why aren't there any bodies?” Azura asked. “Did some of them escape? I doubt whoever ransacked this place would bother taking corpses with them.”

    “That’s what I’d like to know,” Marc replied. “However, I can say that the attack couldn’t have been very recent. All this debris looks quite old and rotted, not to mention a little outdated. And I hope they didn't, but whoever raided this place might've burned the bodies to make sure they left no witnesses.”

    “Well, whatever the case, I’d like to find at least something that could indicate why this village was a target,” Azura proposed. “I don’t want to report this and say there was no apparent reason for the incident.”

    “I agree. No one, not even bandits, would just waltz up to a random village, start fires, and then be on their merry way,” Ike added. “A village this far off the beaten path probably isn't well known and valleys like this usually have only a few steep, narrow paths in and out. The enemy always has some sort of motive, even if it’s as simple as gold or valuables, and they must have gone to a lot of trouble to get it. So I think it’s best to do a little more snooping as well.”

    With that, the group agreed to split up once more and began investigating the rubble of the buildings. However, all they could find beneath the remains were such simple items such as clay pots, broken staves, various articles of clothing, and what appeared to be pieces of book covers. It seemed as though the inhabitants of the village were primarily healers and mages, as no iron or steel weapons were found. Although it could possibly prove to be useful information later on, it wasn’t enough to suggest anything at the moment. Ike did some quick calculations and remembered that he'd seen a plateau earlier in the heart of the village when they'd first emerged from the tunnel. He also saw that it held something quite different than what the group first set their eyes on upon their arrival.

    “Hey, over here!” Ike called to his companions. “I’ll bet you anything that was once a temple.”

    As the others approached Ike to see what he found, he pointed to the tall building sitting upon the plateau, which was half destroyed. Still, of what was left, the group could make out two steeples, a large door that had fallen off its hinges, and some high walls. Elincia looked closer to verify Ike’s hypothesis.

    “So it is. But all temples have a purpose. What was this one used for, I wonder?” she said.

    “Well, all we can do is investigate,” Ike replied. “There’s a stairway over there carved into the side of the cliff. Who knows, maybe we’ll find a clue.”

    He pointed to the stairway that was carved into the side of the plateau which the front of the temple faced.

    “Yeah. That temple could very well be connected to the reason this village was torn to bits,” Azura hypothesized.

    Being the lightest on his feet out of the group, Ranulf volunteered to take point in case the stairway was unstable due to long neglect. And, after all, cats always land on their feet. As Ranulf lopped up the stairs, testing his weight against each before beckoning the others to follow, and making more than a few cracks about Ike's fondness for meat possibly making him too heavy, the small group slowly advanced up towards the temple. The stairway was thin, causing everyone to walk in single file. Once the entire group was on the plateau, they began walking towards the high doorway of the ruined temple. They hadn’t gotten very far, however, when Azura suddenly tripped over a rock stuck in the ground and let out a small yelp. As she’d lost her balance and fell, a gold pendant slipped from her neck and landed in the rocky terrain.

    “Azura, are you alright?” Ike wondered, offering a hand.

    “Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Azura replied, quickly snatching up the pendant. Ike easily noticed it anyway.

    “Hey, where did that come from?” Ranulf asked, before Ike could say something about it himself.

    “Oh, this is just a memento from my mother. She’s the only family I have left as far as I know and we’re both from Galden,” Azura explained as she checked the pendant’s shiny surface for any dirt. “I’ve worn this pendant around my neck for as long as I can remember.”

    The gold pendant took the shape of a strange angular spiral symbol that none of the group had ever seen before. Other than that, it looked like a simple and ordinary piece of jewelry. When Ike turned around to continue to the temple door, he suddenly stopped in his tracks.

    “Hey, look!” Ike exclaimed, pointing to a spot above the tall door. A large symbol had been inscribed there, though it appeared to be missing a portion due to a chunk of the door having been torn off. Though everyone bore surprised looks upon seeing the inscription, Azura’s reaction proved to be the most shocked. When she set her attention where Ike was pointing , she gasped as the feeling of shock coursed through her veins. For when she held the pendant up next to the inscription, Azura saw that the two spiral-like symbols were indentical.

    “Whoa…” Ranulf reacted, his eyes widening with shock after gazing back and forth between the pendant and the inscription. “Now that is weird.”

  5. #5
    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    Okay, here's chapter 4.


    Chapter 4: The Quest Begins


    “How…how can this be?” Azura blurted confusedly, the feeling of shock still running through her veins. “I mean, this pendant came from my mother’s family and she’s never mentioned this place.”

    Ike brought his hand to his chin and pondered this conundrum as his eyes shifted back and forth between the symbol inscribed on the temple and its twin in Azura’s pendant. Several possibilities were taking shape in his mind, but he had difficulty deciding which to consider as the answer to this mystery. There were a number of possible explanations for the whole situation, but not enough evidence at hand to prove one over the others, and what to decide first was the big question in the mercenary’s brainstorming mind.

    “Hmm… Azura, what do you know of your past?” Ike inquired, hoping to gain some evidence supporting any of his theories.

    “Well, not a lot, to be honest,” Azura admitted. “The only knowledge I have is from what my mother has told me. I’m her only child. She claimed my father died in a war years ago and that she entrusted me with the pendant when I was very young. When I was old enough to understand, she explained that it was a family heirloom that had been passed down through her family for generations.”

    Azura went on to explain that she and her mother had been living together in Galden for as long as she could remember. Her mother’s family had grown up there while her father was from another town closer to Aracion, but none of those that were located in the mountains. Upon hearing the explanation, everybody could plainly see that it did not connect with the fact that the temple’s symbol matched the shape of the pendant perfectly. This left a few possibilities, none of which were to Ike’s liking. Either Azura was lying or she sincerely had no idea what connection the pendant had to this temple. Either way, Ike decided that the group had only one option to take.

    “…Strange. I think something fishy is going on,” he opined. “The best thing we can do right now is question your mother about this. Do you think you could arrange that?”

    “Yes, that should be fine. Mother is home most of her time,” Azura replied. “I’d like to speak with her as well anyway.”

    “Are you sure? We’ll be strangers to her,” Elincia pointed out, not one to barge in on people uninvited.

    “I’m positive. Mother won’t mind if she knows I trust all of you,” Azura assured.

    Without hesitation, the group turned around and began to make their way back into the cave they’d initially come through. The journey back to Galden would be a rather long one due to the great distance they had traveled to get to the village ruins. At first it seemed the trip would be free of incident, as the group’s surroundings became so quiet that they could hear a twig drop from a plant. As the group approached the outskirts of Galden at least an hour later, however, they were immediately able to sense more trouble. Cries for help echoed throughout the town’s streets in a sudden outburst, and when Ike, Azura, and company began to make their way through, it didn’t take long for more ruffians to appear in the streets attacking the locals. Immediately hastening their steps, the group raced for the town square, having a strong hunch of exactly what they’d find.

    “Dear goddess, what has become of our fair Galden?” Azura gasped in horror when she set eyes upon the sight before her in the town square. An even larger force of bandits had overwhelmed the area, some with axes and some with swords, ransacking shops and carts and setting houses ablaze while many of the locals who’d been captured by the bandits were being stripped of their valuables and beaten. Several who tried to fight back were hacked to death on the spot by a fearsome bandit who doubtlessly led this band. Azura and Ike both decided that this was completely outrageous and cruel, and stepped up in defense of the town, followed by the rest of their team. The locals cheered with relief when they took note of the group’s presence and, when the bandits turned their attention to their attackers, made a break for it.

    “Azura…is this what you meant when you told me you’ve dealt with these bandits before?” Elincia inquired, unable to hide her shock at the viciousness of the assault.

    “Definitely not,” Azura replied and turned her attention to the boss of the bandits. “Hey! What do you think you and your monkeys are doing here, you overgrown ape?!”

    “Well well, if it ain’t the snooty pants redhead and her sellswords from the mountains,” the boss snorted. “Ya may have won up there, but yer definitely not gonna escape here!”

    “Oh yeah?! I think my blade will change your mind!” Azura retorted in anger.

    “Gosh, it’s like a whole army of bandits are out there,” Marc noted with confusion. “How could all of these people steep so low?”

    “Who knows? Though whatever it is, these morons want revenge on us,” Ike replied. “But sellswords, eh? Now where have I heard that before?”

    His sarcastic tone didn’t help Azura.

    “Ike, c’mon, this is no time for small talk!” she snarled in annoyance. “We need to show these fools who they’re dealing with.”

    “Oh, I’m with you all the way. I’m only being shown that these guys are as stupid as the bandits you see in Tellius,” Ike explained. “Anyway, we’re ready when you are!”

    Once the entire group charged towards their enemy, the bandits shifted their attention to their opponents and ignored the mostly fleeing townsfolk. Though, since the bandits had spread out trying to recapture their prisoners, Azura and company had the advantage of fighting a scattered enemy. The few locals that hadn’t run decided to find concealment and watch the battle. With Ike armed once more, the group was confident these bandits would prove to be no match for them. The battle began within seconds as the sound of axe, sword, and lance clashed in the chaos. Because of his superior skill, Ike was able to take down his opponents with fair ease, though he could plainly notice that despite them being no more intelligent, they were considerably stronger than any of the bandits he’d encountered in Tellius. They were better equipped and clearly better trained and coordinated since they’d regrouped and counterattacked far sooner than Ike had expected.

    The battle dragged on as the group plunged their weapons into bandit after bandit. However, for every bandit that suffered defeat, one more would emerge at the edge of town to take his place. Over time, Azura, Ike, and company were growing exhausted, allowing blows to slip past their guard and forcing them onto the defensive. However, this was no time to give up. The bandits were tougher than expected, but far from mighty. Surely they could prevail. Still, there was the possibility of the reinforcements being even tougher than their predecessors. Eventually, Ranulf decided to speak up about the situation, now having a few small gashes on himself from a sword.

    “It’s like it’ll never end. How much longer do you think we can keep this up?”

    “I don’t know, Ranulf, but we mustn’t give in! We have to fight to the bitter end no matter what!” Azura encouraged, her resolve unwavering.

    “Yeah, eventually these guys have to give up and admit they’re no match for us anyway,” Ike added. Although he was still concerned, Ranulf continued to fight in spite of it.

    Despite his words, Ike knew the situation was indeed perilous. The bandits had, despite their losses, achieved the tactical edge in the battle. Their astonishing recovery to their initial disadvantage had allowed them to seize the all-important initiative and they clearly had the advantage of numbers. The group had drawn back to one of the walls of the square, limiting the bandits’ routes of attack and making it impossible to be struck from the rear but also making escape impossible. Considering what the bandits apparently had planned, retreat was unconscionable in any case but Ike knew that unless the bandit reinforcements ran out before his company’s defenses broke, they’d be in trouble.

    Just minutes later, however, two figures emerged from a street nearby. They did not look like bandits at all, to Azura and Ike’s relief. One of them was a Halberdier with a short mane of olive green hair, green armor, and carrying a steel lance and round green shield. His blue-green tunic flowed behind him as his running came to a halt in the square. The Halberdier’s partner was a light blue-haired young man with a single gray shoulder pad, a short tunic, and carrying a steel bow, which meant he was an archer. A small ponytail bounced upon the back of his neck as he followed with his blue eyes showing no mercy. The two men’s expressions transformed into even greater anger on their faces when they saw Azura and Ike’s group battling the numerous bandit enemies. Yet, at the same time, they looked rather satisfied for some reason as well.

    “Ah, finally! The main force!” the Halberdier exclaimed. “I figured the group we tore up on the town outskirts wasn’t all of them. Skye, it’s time we ended this nonsense once and for all. You ready?”

    “Right by you, Bryan. Men! Finish these ruffians! Do not harm the other warriors!” the archer added. With that, a small platoon of foot units appeared from the same avenue the bandit reinforcements had previously used and began assaulting the remaining enemies. The archer drew an arrow from the quiver attached to a bandoleer strapped across his back and joined in as well. The Halberdier followed to aid the rest of the soldiers. Some of the bandits, realizing this meant their reinforcements were gone and the tide was turning, attempted to escape in cowardice, but were eventually overtaken and slain. However, the boss stood his ground when the Halberdier approached him. Neither of them showed any signs of backing down from their determination to vanquish the other. The Halberdier readied his lance and shield with confidence.

    “Ya fool! How dare ya bring my lads to their knees?!” the enemy boss snapped as he watched his army’s numbers decrease at the speed of a horse race.

    “We’ll bring down even more of them if you don’t surrender immediately,” the Halberdier replied. “Attacking an entire town for a single person is foolhardy!”

    But the bandit boss would not give in easily.

    “Oh yeah? Never! Not ‘til we get what we want from that redheaded twit!” the bandit snarled defiantly.

    “Then you can kiss your rear end good bye, ruffian. I will not let you harm anymore of these people!”

    With that, the Halberdier engaged in battle and defeated the boss in a matter of minutes despite the fact that he was at a disadvantage with a lance. And even with that, the Halberdier received a blow to the arm in the process, but had it healed up right away by a healer in the platoon. With the fighting finally over, the Halberdier, archer, and Ike and Azura’s group gathered in the town square.

    “Thank you so much for aiding us,” Azura greeted, unable to hide her relief. “That was impressive battling. We might have been in big trouble had you and your soldiers not shown up.”

    “No problem. It’s part of my job, miss,” the Halberdier replied with a smile that became a quizzical stare. “Say, aren’t you that red-headed mercenary the bandits have been looking for lately? What’s up with that?”

    “What? I-I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Azura stammered.

    “Azura, come on now. You just got captured by them a little while ago,” Ike lectured. “I’m curious as to what the story is behind all this myself.”

    “Sigh… Alright, I suppose you deserve to know,” Azura gave in. “But I can’t tell you out here in public. I don’t want it to be known to anyone else.”

    “That’s understandable,” Ike agreed and turned to the Halberdier and archer. “Now who are you, exactly?”

    “Ah, we never made introductions, did we? I’m Bryan, commander of the Talgrian Army’s third platoon,” the Halberdier replied. “This here is Skye, my assistant.”

    “Pleasure, Sir Ike,” the archer politely greeted.

    “Hey, how do you--? Oh wait, right. I forgot practically everyone here knows me,” Ike replied in slight embarrassment.

    “Yeah, we figured that’s who we were helping. It’s an honor to meet you,” Bryan acknowledged with a smile. “But wait, you have an axe in your hand. I heard you were a master swordsman.”

    “Oh, that I am,” Ike assured. He then explained the incident that occurred on the mountain as well as the details on Azura’s capture. Ike also added the tale of the bandit assault on his and Ranulf’s camp. The stories baffled Bryan and Skye, yet at the same time interested them as well. A frown formed on Bryan’s face once Ike finished, which clearly indicated that he had a bad feeling about the current situation. Ike asked him if there was something wrong.

    “I’m not sure. It’s just that this is such a coincidence,” Bryan replied. He went on to explain that the king had suddenly grown very concerned and ordered many of the soldiers on patrol in Aracion’s roads and walls as well as in other towns and villages to leave their posts to search for a ‘person of interest.’ None of them knew exactly why, as the king’s intentions were being kept under great secrecy as was everything about the ‘person of interest’ beyond a vague physical description. Not even the Talgrian Royal Knights knew exactly what was going on. The only thing they knew was that the king dispatched several platoons to search for a red-haired girl wearing a gold pendant and warned them that they might find her being actively pursued by bandits. They had no clue why they were looking for such a person and could only obey.

    “That’s… Is that me?” Azura asked in naked shock, just shy of panic.

    “I believe so,” Bryan confirmed. “Though my platoon wasn’t assigned to such a task, it’s fortunate that we’ve crossed paths anyway.”

    “Especially considering those bandits,” Skye interjected. “Whoever they are, they want you pretty badly. Aside from the people they killed in the square, we found the bodies of this town’s militiamen on the outskirts of town. The bandits overwhelmed and killed all of them. If these bandits are willing to massacre an entire town militia, and can actually do it, it’s best we stick together so we can fight them off.”

    “Indeed. We were going to see Azura’s mother about some of these details,” Ike replied. “I have a good feeling the woman will be able to give us important information.”

    “Then we must speak with her at once,” Bryan insisted. “These ruins you mentioned must have something to do with his majesty’s motives.”

    On that note, Azura led the group down another road towards her mother’s house. With the attack over and the bandits defeated, the locals began cleaning up whatever mess the enemy had left behind, such as broken windows, doors, and knocked over display tables in outdoor shops, and on a far sadder note, identifying the dead for proper burial. Although Azura, Ike, and the rest of the group wished they could provide some extra help, they knew more important matters needed to be tended to first, plus as they traveled, more townsfolk appeared to pitch in with the job. The group figured the townspeople would manage without their saviors for now.

    Within the next several minutes, Azura brought her party before a wood and brick house not far outside of the market area in which the battle had occurred. It was a small, quaint place, just like any average home in Galden. Azura advised most of the group to wait outside so her mother wouldn’t feel crowded, sighed with slight nervousness, and opened the door. She looked at her pendant once again, wondering if it could possibly be more than what she had always thought it was. While Azura was inside, Marc and Leona conversed in their own time as they waited for everyone’s return. Marc sighed with nervousness as well, which made Leona curious.

    “This feels so weird. If this is an old woman we’re trying to get information from, I swear I’m going to faint if I see her face to face,” he complained.

    “Oh stop it. Why are you always so antsy around old hags?” Leona asked in annoyance. “It isn’t like they’re going to murder you or anything.”

    “I really don’t know. They creep me out for some reason.”

    “Ugh. Come on. They’re just women who’ve aged.”

    “Yeah, aged to the point where they look like creepy old witches.”

    “Don’t be ridiculous. How come old men don’t look like creepy old coots then, huh?”

    “Old men? Ha, they’re even weirder.”

    “Sigh… Sometimes I think you’re the weird one, Marc…”

    Azura came out just moments later and motioned Ike, Ranulf, Elincia, Bryan, and Skye to follow her inside the house. The room was tidy and nicely furnished, causing the five to be careful not to bump into anything by mistake. Paintings hung upon the wall while a small fireplace sat in the living room. A Brave Sword, one of the strongest and rarest weapons in existence, hung over the mantel of the fireplace as a memento, likely to Azura’s father, while other display objects such as pottery sat below it. A small couch, chair, rug, and other basic living room furniture made up the sitting room in which the six warriors stood. Azura’s mother, a rather middle-aged looking woman with brown hair and brown eyes, walked out of the kitchen to greet them wearing a long, beige colored dress of simple make. Just as Ike suspected, she bore no family resemblance to Azura whatsoever. He had a feeling about what this meant, but held his tongue in case Azura took after her father.

    Azura’s mother was clearly worried, her expression nervous and her hands wringing. When she caught sight of Azura, she bolted over to her child.

    “Azura, darling! Are you hurt?!” she asked in naked panic. “I heard about what happened in the square, oh goddess, you look awful!”

    Before Azura could react, must less protest, her mother had snatched up a cloth swap which had been soaked in rubbing alcohol and began rubbing Azura pretty much everywhere.

    “Ouch!” Azura squealed. “That hurts! Come on, these are just scratches. I’ve had broken nails that hurt worse than these. Well, before the rubbing alcohol, that is!”

    “It stings because it works!” her mother insisted, brooking no argument. “You should consider yourself lucky you got out of there alive. Did you hear about the militia? After those bandits defeated them, they were tortured and then had their heads chopped off with those horrible axes. And, before you say anything else, I know you can handle yourself in a fight but is it too much to ask that you actually take care of your wounds when the fighting is over?”

    “MOM!” Azura moaned as the medicating, or overmedicating, continued.

    Ordinarily, Ike might’ve found this mother hen moment amusing but the woman’s earlier words about the militia made laughter the furthest thing from his mind. This was made even truer when he heard Bryan and Skye having a whispered conversation which he heard anyway.

    “There were at least thirty men in that militia,” Bryan whispered to Skye. “All local volunteers, at least half of them with families.”

    “And I counted at least twenty dead in the square,” Skye replied quietly. “I’d hate to be in the town magistrate’s shoes. You know he always delivers news like this personally. If the bandits weren’t already dead, I’d kill them.”

    “You might get a chance,” Bryan offered in a soft tone. “Tracking Azura this far and overwhelming a town militia and ransacking a town square? That takes organization and has be the work of a bigger band than what we saw in the square. We’ll find ‘em and we’ll nail ‘em.”

    Despite their attempts at being discreet, Ike heard everything. And, he shared the sentiment. He wanted to find the people responsible for this massacred and give them a piece of his mind and a piece of his weapon, right through the gut.

    Azura’s mother, after practically bathing her daughter in disinfectant, finally noticed her other visitors.

    “So these are your new friends, Azura dear? I’m pleased to meet you all,” the woman greeted with a smile. “I’m Lorelle, Azura’s mother. Between her screeches, she told me about you and what you’ve done for her. Thank you so much. What can I do for you fine young warriors?”

    “The pleasure is ours. I’m Ike, from Tellius,” Ike replied. “We were hoping you could tell us something about the pendant Azura wears.”

    “Oh? Whatever for?” Lorelle wondered, startled, but not perplexed by the question.

    “We found ruins of an old town in the mountains,” Azura replied. “The symbol that my pendant takes the shape of is carved onto the temple there. Bandits have been looking for me for a long time as well. From what you’ve told me of my past, none of this makes sense.”

    “My men and I also think it’s related to a situation currently occurring in Aracion,” Bryan added.

    Lorelle didn’t reply immediately. Instead, an anguished look painted her features and she sighed with grief. Everyone could tell she had a story to share.

    “I knew this day would come. Azura… I have a confession to make,” she replied. “I lied to you about your history. I’m…I’m not your real mother.”

    “W-What?!” Azura gasped.

    “I’m sorry,” Lorelle apologized, aggrieved. “I adopted you…in a manner of speaking. That pendant you wear was never in my family either. I have no idea where it came from, to tell you the truth.”

    “I…I can’t believe it,” Azura murmured back.

    “Just as I thought,” Ike replied. “Please, tell us more.”

    “I’m interested as well,” Ranulf added.

    Lorelle agreed and began her story. She explained that not long after her late husband was killed, she found a basket on her doorstep one early morning when the rain was falling hard. Tucked inside was a baby girl who wore a strange, yet beautiful gold pendant around her neck. Lorelle was about to take the baby inside when the noticed the body of a young red-haired woman lying not more than a foot away from the basket with two arrows protruding from her back. Assuming she had been the baby’s biological mother, Lorelle kneeled before the body to see if the woman might still be alive despite the wounds. The cold, pale skin and absence of a heartbeat, pulse rate, and breathing offered grim confirmation that she lived no more. Lorelle decided to hope that the mother rest in peace and brought the baby inside the house. Once she removed the baby from the soiled basket, she found a parchment note tucked in the blanket. It begged to protect the child, whose name was Azura, and the pendant at all costs, but nothing more. Once the rain stopped, Lorelle asked that the woman’s body be buried next to her husband since the dead woman had given her life, meaning, and happiness as her husband had. In lieu of knowing the woman’s name, the local priest gave her the name Alma Mater, or nourishing mother, as she had nourished her child’s survival with her very life.

    “So…you suggested I become a mercenary and learn the ways of the sword so I could protect this pendant?” Azura realized.

    “Yes. I do not know anymore than that,” Lorelle finished, clearly wishing she had more to offer. “But you’ve done well to guard it for so long. I only wish I could help you.”

    “Oh, but you have, Mother. You’ve helped by raising me and encouraging me to come as far as I have,” Azura replied.

    “Really? Thank you…very much, dear,” Lorelle replied happily.

    “Ahem. I apologize for interrupting this heart-warming conversation, but his majesty will probably like to hear this information,” Bryan interrupted. “I must be going immediately.”

    “Hey now, Bry—” Elincia started as Bryan left through the front door without another word. “Ugh, I’m sorry. You’ll have to excuse him, Lorelle.”

    “It’s alright. I suppose I deserve it anyway for being such a liar to the closest thing I ever had to a child,” Lorelle replied with sorrow.

    “Nonsense, Mother. I can see why you would keep it hidden from me,” Azura protested. “I enjoyed my life with you too much to take secrets like these offensively. I’m glad you lied.”

    “…You are?”

    “Yes.”

    “I’m…touched. Thank you, again.”

    This time it was Ike’s turn to make an interruption.

    “Well, since we’ve heard what we came to hear, we may as well go catch up with Bryan,” he proposed. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Lorelle.”

    “Oh, you too, Sir Ike,” Lorelle agreed with a smile. “In fact, I’m rather honored that Azura has a warrior such as you on her side. And now that I think about it, many folks in these parts have been talking about a famous Tellius native named Ike. That’s you, isn’t it?”

    “Yeah, no doubt,” Ike reluctantly replied and then lowered his voice. “I knew I was going to regret ever becoming a general…”

    “Hm?” Lorelle asked, raising one eyebrow.

    “Oh, uh, nothing,” Ike stammered in slight embarrassment.

    “Well, I guess you should get going now if you want to catch up with your friend out there,” Lorelle replied. “You all take care and be careful out there now!”

    “We will.” After his last words, Ike and the rest of the group followed Bryan’s example from earlier and returned outside to rejoin Marc and Leona, who were still arguing, and Skye, whom had followed Bryan out and was trying to calm the quarreling knights. Remembering his broken sword, Ike produced both halves of Ettard and sighed with frustration. He spotted Bryan farther up the road, and motioned Azura and the others to follow him in hopes they could gain more traveling companions. Azura had high hopes of both Bryan and Skye staying to continue aiding her since they had apparent ties to the king of Talgria. They halted when Bryan finally turned around to take note of his pursuers. Ike stepped ahead of his comrades and spoke first.

    “Bryan, wait a minute,” he ushered. “We need to go to Aracion too. Is that offer to join you still open?”

    “Of course. In fact, I was just about to come back and ask you if you were still interested,” Bryan replied with a smile. “And you ought to find a blacksmith to fix that sword.”

    His smile transformed into a frown upon noticing the two halves of Ettard.

    “Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that too. I’d like it re-forged as soon as possible,” Ike agreed. “You know where I can find a smith?”

    “As a matter of fact, I happen know a really good one who lives in a town on the way to Aracion,” Bryan delightedly confirmed. “This guy’ll fix that sword right up in no time. He can even turn it into a top-notch blade for you.”

    “Sounds like he’s the real deal,” Ike inferred.

    “Oh, he definitely is,” Bryan agreed. “Now let’s get going. His majesty will want to see Azura as soon as he can. I’m assuming neither you nor Azura know which way to go from here, so if you’d like, Skye and I can serve as your escorts.”

    “Thanks, that would be most helpful,” Ike agreed. “Although, Marc and Leona are both Talgrian knights, so perhaps they could lend a hand in the navigating as well?”

    “Oh, of course. We’d be honored to help out,” Marc agreed. “Right, Leona?”

    “Definitely,” Leona replied. “General Leyon wants us back as soon as possible though, so we need to waste no time. He originally sent Marc and I to investigate Galden for anything suspicious, although as Bryan stated before, we have no concrete idea why. One reason we came to help you in the first place was to investigate these bandits that have suddenly appeared. The other reason, well, we saw you were in big trouble.”

    “And we were,” Ike recalled. “It was very fortunate Ranulf and Elincia ran into Marc while looking for me.”

    “General Leyon? I assume he’s the commander of Talgria’s Royal Knights?” Azura guessed.

    “Correct again. We must leave now if we’re to arrive before daylight tomorrow though. That’s when he expects us,” Marc added, pointing out that it was now late afternoon.

    “Alright, then we’ll take your advice and depart immediately,” Ike agreed. “If no one else has a problem with it, that is.”

    “Nope, ‘tis fine with us,” Bryan confirmed, speaking for himself and Skye. “Skye and I are used to having to do that at times anyway.”

    “Same here,” Ranulf agreed.

    “I don’t mind either,” Elincia seconded.

    “Well, that settles it then,” Ike replied.

    “Just like old times, eh buddy?” Ranulf spoke up cheerfully, wrapping an arm around Ike’s shoulder. “You, me, your girlfriend, some new friends, the open road, and some bad guys for us to clobber.”

    Ike, clearly in no mood for laughs, gave Ranulf a glare that would’ve blistered paint.

    “This isn’t all fun and games, Ranulf,” he informed his too cheerful friend. “I don’t know what these bandits are hoping to gain by getting Azura’s pendant and frankly, I don’t care. They just murdered a lot of people in cold blood and they must be made to pay.”

    “I know that. We all do,” Ranulf replied, raising both hands defensively. “I was just trying to lighten things up.”

    “Later,” Ike suggested, his anger deflating slightly. “I appreciate the gesture though.”

    “Hey, it’s just one of the several hundred things I do well,” Ranulf gloated, bowing to no one in particular.

    “Yeah, I forgot about your high opinion of yourself,” Ike quipped in friendly sarcasm.

    “Well, someone has to balance you out,” Elincia joked, craning in to kiss Ike’s cheek, which instantly turned pink alongside the other one. “You take compliments the way a baby takes medicine.”

    “Or the way Azura takes rubbing alcohol,” Ranulf added.

    “HEY!” Azura shouted. “She practically doused me in the stuff!”

    “Thanks guys, I needed that,” Ike replied through hearty chuckles. “Let’s go.”

    With that, the group made for the long road leading to Aracion, where Castle Talgria stood high and mighty. However, no one could guarantee that there wouldn’t be any further incidents to slow them down along the way, which meant that they needed to remain prepared for any possible fight to come. Bryan explained that from where they were beginning, the journey would not be a simple one. Rugged areas and the rocky, but not impassable mountain range they were in before stood in their way, as well as the Kiang River, which they had to cross in order to reach Aracion in the shortest time possible.

    Everyone approached the outskirts of town once more after twenty minutes passed during their traveling. Ike was busy analyzing every piece of information the group had gathered so far regarding the bandit attacks, the ruins, and the story from Lorelle. However, none of it seemed to tell him the possible connection between the destroyed mountain village and Azura’s pendant. One important piece of the puzzle seemed to be missing. Or perhaps there was still more to it than that. Ike could only continue to ponder about it until he remembered what Bryan had brought up after the battle in the square ended.

    “Hey, Azura,” Ike spoke up, breaking the silence that had befallen the group. “We’re outside of town now, so do you think you can tell us why these bandits are after you?”

    “Oh, yes. It’s surely connected to the information Bryan gave us,” Azura agreed. “You see, it all started several years ago when I was a little girl still in training with a local swordsman in Galden. Mother and I had taken a little vacation down south as a treat for my working so hard with the teacher…”

    Azura’s tale continued as she described the trip as a pleasant one with no incidents for most of the time. Lorelle and Azura were treating themselves to a relaxing stay on one of the beaches on the southern coastline. After they left for the day and sought a nearby town, the pair decided to get dinner before turning in. As they traveled down the road through the market, Azura mistakenly bumped into a strangely dressed man in partially ragged clothes with a sword at his side. Azura politely apologized, but all the man did was stare in shock at the pendant and then her, with no reply except for a nod and carry on.

    “Back then, I wasn’t sure why he was so intrigued by this pendant,” Azura continued. “But now I have a hunch he may have been a bandit too, and blabbed his findings to his cohorts.”

    “I agree. How else would the word spread around all those goons?” Ike replied. “Still, that doesn’t explain how they found you here.”

    “I can answer that with the next part of my story,” Azura offered. “It happened a few months ago when my teacher was putting me to a final test to see if I could prove myself as a full fledged mercenary. Right in the middle of the test, which was a spar against my teacher himself, the front door of the building was smashed open and we were attacked.”

    “Whoa…” Bryan responded, raising an eyebrow. “Let me guess. Bandits.”

    “Yep. They demanded that my teacher hand over both me and the pendant or else he’d suffer,” Azura explained. “I stepped up to defend him, but I was no match. They were too strong. I was on the floor in a pool of my own blood before I knew it with a disabling wound in my leg.”

    Although the teacher managed to bring down all the assailants when fighting in Azura’s place, she went on, he had also received a serious injury, but in his side. He fell to the floor next to the helpless Azura and spoke to her in a weak voice, holding out a small gold pouch in a trembling hand.

    “He told me to take his last vulnerary, heal myself up, and run,” Azura continued. “I was reluctant to and asked him what he would do about his wound, but said he was more worried about me and kept insisting that I take his advice. So I did, even though I was fighting back tears. Still, I refused to take the chances of him not surviving, so I went home, got Mother, and we returned to the training school.”

    However, by the time Azura and Lorelle arrived at the scene of the attack, the teacher was nowhere to be found. Instead, the place had been trashed and broken weapons were scattered everywhere. Furniture had been smashed and overturned while the windows were cracked or shattered. They figured more of the enemy had shown up as reinforcements while Azura was gone, but their motives, as well as the fate of the teacher, remained a mystery. The only unharmed item the pair could find was a lone Regal Sword hidden in a wooden box that sat in the very back of the teacher’s supply room. Azura and Lorelle both agreed that the teacher probably died protecting it and Azura herself.

    “I was surprised to find such a thing there as well since the Regal Sword was the most valuable blade my teacher possessed, not to mention the rarest,” Azura explained. “And this sword I carry with me is that very same blade. I took it so I could fight in my teacher’s honor.”

    “Wow, I knew your sword looked familiar,” Ike replied. “I started out with one of those too. My father gave it to me, although I haven’t any idea where he got it. It served me well until I could easily get my hands on more powerful weapons.”

    “Really, Ike?” Azura asked, quite surprised. “That’s quite a coincidence.”

    “Yeah, it’s almost scary,” Ike agreed. “As if the Regal Sword is meant to be a sign… A sign that the wielder is destined for something big, like I was.”

    “Oh yeah, that’s right,” Ranulf recalled. “Ike is not only the famed hero of the Mad King’s War, but he went and became a high ranked general twice, not to mention he commanded all the armies of several countries the second time and then went to kick the butt of an arrogant goddess. He’s definitely the biggest thing in Tellius since bread and milk! Especially with the ladies.”

    “Will you watch it?!” Ike retorted hotly. “Elincia is standing right there, you nitwit!”

    “Oh Ike, calm down,” Elincia replied with a giggle. “I don’t mind. Besides, it isn’t like you’d easily love another girl.”

    “Yeah, that’s true,” Ike agreed, recalling Aimee’s constant episodes whenever he visited her at her merchant caravan in Tellius, which tempted him to avoid other women as well. “But anyway, you were saying, Azura?”

    “Oh, right. Ever since those attacks, the bandits have been chasing after me, and I only succeeded in bringing them down and escaping,” Azura continued. “I’ve never run into as many as there were in the square, though. I would have probably met my end already it if I hadn’t met all of you.”

    “Yeah, I can’t disagree on that one,” Bryan agreed. “But we’re all here to help you beat them, so you have no need to worry.”

    “And I thank all of you,” Azura replied with a smile. “Together we’re an even match!”

    “You mean more than a match!” Bryan corrected with a wink. “Now let’s do this!”

  6. #6
    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    Chapter 5! :D


    Chapter 5: A Dead End


    Although by now it was near evening, the sun halfway below the horizon, no one in Ike and Azura’s group let the approaching exhaustion from that morning’s battles sap their strength. Ike knew better than to become overconfident, however, as the saying 'a weary warrior is soon a dead one' was one he knew to be a literal truth after back-to-back battles coupled with adrenaline slump had caused several near misses in Tellius. Ike knew he and his companions would need rest when they could find a town or a defensible piece of land to make camp, and the sooner the better. The foot of the mountain range was not much further away, and all were eager to reach their destination. However, because of the incidents that had already occurred within these mountains, the group was sure they wouldn’t reach Aracion unopposed. Bandits were most likely still in the area and frantically searching for Azura for whatever reasons they had, not to mention payback for the defeats Azura and company handed them. As the high mountains seemed to grow bigger in the distance with each passing second, Bryan turned his attention to his comrades.

    “Hey Ike, Azura. There’s one thing I forgot to mention,” he addressed.

    “Oh?” Ike inquired.

    “Yeah, um…I don’t know if this would be a problem for you, but my platoon is currently missing a valuable member,” Bryan explained. “He disappeared not long before we found you and those bandits in the town square. He believed he'd spotted a second, smaller contingent heading for Galden and assured me he could handle it himself. He never reported back and after seeing that bandit army, I'm worried.”

    “That’s not good…” Azura replied. “I wonder what could have happened.”

    “So do I,” Ike agreed. “Well, we’ll be sure to keep an eye out for him anyway. What does he look like?”

    “Oh, dark hair, a little bulky, burnt orange armor. Kinda like the armor the rest of my soldiers wear, only darker. He also uses swords,” Bryan elaborated. “I just hope nothing bad has happened to him. He’s one of my strongest men, though he’s…well, a little impulsive.”

    “I bet he is. He wouldn’t happen to be one of those heavy foot knights, would he?” Ike inquired. “I do recall them having heavyset or bulky figures.”

    “Heh. Ike, you sure know your military stuff,” Bryan complimented, hinting that Ike’s guess was correct.

    “Well hey, as Ranulf said, I was a general twice,” Ike reminded Bryan with a smile. “Even if I hated it, I still gained enough experience to know these things. Plus, I had a guy like that in my mercenary company.”

    “Yeah, but Ike, not knowing whether this guy is alright would definitely be a good reason to find him as soon as possible,” Azura pointed out. “Besides, it’s not as if we don’t need the help.”

    “True. And that’s no matter how tough he is,” Ike agreed.

    It was only a matter of time before the group closed in on the foot of the mountain range. The mountains rose up high above the horizon, their rocky peaks towering above and blocking out some of the sunlight, making them appear to be mere silhouettes. It would be tough hiking through the long mountain trails, going both up and down slopes and hilly areas, but everyone in the group was willing to press on. However, when they approached the nearest mountain to them, something out of the ordinary was seen in the distance.

    “Hey… Look over there,” Ranulf spoke up, pointing to a small encampment situated on the foothills. Closer inspection began to reveal a group of figures, standing by the largest tent. They turned out to be bandits and Ike suspected he could figure that out with his eyes closed. However, one of them looked quite out of place amongst the others, not to mention uncomfortable. Tied to a tall post was an unarmed man with dark brown hair. He matched the description Bryan had given earlier. Bryan’s eyes widened when he was able to identify the man himself.

    “Hey, it’s Morris!” he cried in shock. “He’s the one we’re looking for. How could he have gotten into the hands of these bandits?”

    “Knowing Morris, he probably fell into a trap again,” Skye guessed, rolling his eyes. “He’s so gullible. Still, we’ve gotta get him out of there. I see blood on his arms.”

    “Blast. And a lot of these ruffians have axes…” Bryan added. “That’ll not do for my lance, even if I’m stronger than they are. What to do…”

    “We’ll rescue him for you,” Azura offered. “It’s no trouble at all. Right, Ike?”

    “Sure,” Ike agreed. “Of course, this makes me wish I had my sword even more, but an axe is better than a lance here. No offense.”

    “None taken, and thanks,” Bryan replied with a smile. “While you all focus on Morris, Skye and I will go sneak around the back and see if we should find any more of these clowns up ahead. I may not do well against guys like these head on, but if I sneak up on them, they’re in for a world of hurt!”

    “Good idea. We’ll meet you up the trail,” Ike decided with a nod. With that, the remainder of the group headed for the entrance to the camp while Bryan and Skye took a small path around to the other side in order to slip past unnoticed. Once they disappeared further up the mountain trail, Ike and Azura discussed a strategy for taking on the bandits’ numbers while the group still remained hidden from sight. Compared to how many sword users were available on the side of Ike and Azura, the bandits definitely had the advantage.

    “Hey Ike, I say we launch a surprise attack. They don’t look very prepared for a battle,” Azura suggested, pointing out how the bandits were huddled together in conversation, and clearly paying little attention to the camp perimeter. They were more interested in guarding whatever was inside or in front of the large tent rather than their entire camp, which would help compensate for Azura and company’s disadvantage in weaponry.

    “You’re right, they don’t. You and Elincia probably aren’t enough to create an advantage either,” Ike agreed. “A surprise attack is all I can think of. If we hit them fast and hard, we can knock them down to even footing. Let’s do it.”

    Everyone else went along with the plan. Since Marc and Leona were the only mounted soldiers in the group, they went first due to their speed advantage. Almost in sync, they plunged their weapons into the nearest bandits they could find. Ike, Azura, and Ranulf followed up behind them and attacked whoever remained. As expected, the leader of this bandit troop caught wind of this a little too late when he heard screams coming from ahead.

    “Huh?! What in tarnation is goin’ on?!” he gasped, mounting a horse.

    “Ahh! We’re bein’ attacked!” another bandit hollered just before getting struck down by Ike’s axe himself. The rest of the bandit troop, including the leader, turned their attention to their attackers. The leader smiled upon who he was facing right there in his camp.

    “Well what do ya know? If it ain’t the pesky sellswords who beat Azirk’s guys back ‘n that pathetic town,” he realized with false levity. “Finish ‘em off, lads! Show ‘em what we do when our buddies take a beatin’ from worms like ‘em!” With that, the other bandits immediately gripped their weapons and rushed into the battle. Ike sighed and tried to keep his cool upon hearing the word “sellsword” again.

    “That sellswords insult is really getting on my nerves,” Ike grunted to himself as he approached an axe ruffian.

    “Well ain’t that too bad fer you,” the ruffian replied and clashed his own axe with Ike’s. “Cause it’s what the lot of ya are!” Ike simply rolled his eyes.

    “Oh please,” he retorted and snuck his axe’s blade into the ruffian’s gut right after he spoke.

    The battle continued on as the group cut their way through the bandits whom attempted to fight back. A larger group surrounded Morris, who put a relieved look on his face when he saw the warriors who were there to rescue him. He continuously attempted to break free of the ropes which bound him to the post, but they wouldn't budge. The post, however, did. To Morris' astonishment, his struggling had somehow uprooted the post and suddenly finding its full weight on his back nearly sent him sprawling. And, of course, the bandits noticed.

    “There is no way my luck is this bad,” Morris groused as axe ruffians closed in on him.

    One of them, an ugly grinning bandit, muttered something about fish in a barrel and took a swing with his axe. Morris, not having much of a choice, ducked under the axe. The post descended with him, crashing into the bandit's skull. The bandit danced about, dazed, before collapsing with blood trickling out of his skull while Morris looked on is astonishment and then inspiration.

    “I think I'm on to something here,” he thought aloud.

    The remaining bandits, less than pleased, came at him and Morris fought back as best he could. While he had exceptional balance and the post worked as an improvised weapon, it was simply too long and heavy to use against multiple foes. The cuts in his arms, along with the fact they were still bound, meant all the post's weight was directly on his back. And if he fell, he knew he was as good as dead.

    “Hey! You, over there!” Morris called out in hopes he was heard.

    “Hm?” Azura replied, having been closest to the partially freed captive.

    “Are you here to rescue me?” Morris inquired.

    “Why yes. I believe your commanding officer asked us to,” Azura confirmed, suddenly finding Bryan’s description of Morris being impulsive to be credible.

    “Oh, Captain Bryan sent you? Thank you! I figured he’d find me sooner or later,” Morris replied with a sigh of relief. “Gosh I have a lot of explaining to do…”

    “Well, save it for later! Right now we need to finish what we’ve started!” Azura commented.

    “Sounds good but how about untying me?”

    Azura was about to answer his plea but was interrupted when a horse, not Marc or Leona's, blurred past her. It trailed a streak of iron that Azura barely dodged, turning a blow that would've cleaved her skull open in a very painful cut running from the corner of her lip to her earlobe. Azura fell to the ground, half blinded by pain, but made out the silhouette of a mounted sword knight turning his mount to strike again.

    Ike spied Azura's dilemma with alarm, which grew when he realized that Leona was the only one who had the biggest advantage over the leader and she was tied up fighting the other bandits. Ike lunged towards them, hoping to outflank his mounted foe, when a hand axe flew into his line of sight so close it nearly cut his nose off. The axe's thrower soon followed, along with a friend. Ike's eyes darted between his attackers, the imperiled Azura, and the restrained Morris, and he despaired of saving them.

    Then, Ike saw the impossible, or at least the preposterous, happen. He witnessed Morris bent nearly double over until the post he was tied to had been near parallel with the ground and then he charged at the oncoming bandit leader. Ike watched, as much as he could, as the charging Morris rammed the post into the bandit leader's horse so hard that the horse went one way while its rider went in another. By some humorous whim of fate, the bandit leader's flight ended at the feet of a bleeding and very angry Azura.

    “Payback time,” she intoned, ramming her sword through his gut.

    “Augghh… Damn you, sellswords!” the dying man choked out. “This ain’t the last…you’ll see of us…” He fell over and departed to the afterlife as he said his final words. Azura took advantage of this reprieve and attempted to cut through Morris's bonds, but a ruffian who had been hidden jumped her.

    “Graaah!” Azura gasped as she was tackled to the ground.

    “Lady Azura!” Marc exclaimed, having seen what happened. He quickly tossed a hand axe right into the ruffian’s gut, piercing him critically enough for a kill. Feeling strange that she’d been called “lady,” Azura quickly vaulted to her feet only to see Marc's intervention had ended the battle.

    “Wow, this group was weak. How did one such as yourself managed to get captured by them?” Ike wondered, walking up to Morris while Azura produced a vulnerary to heal herself.

    “Yeah, it’s pathetic, isn’t it?” Morris replied. “I gave chase to these very same bandits back in Galden, only to get separated from the captain and the other troops at the worst time. They led me right into a trap, which was a big group of reinforcements, and here we are.”

    “Well… I have to admit, I’ve underestimated these creeps,” Ike commented. “I never thought they’d be smart enough to even know which weapon fairs better against which. Or use mounted units for that matter.”

    “I thought the same…” Morris admitted. “Hey…hold the arrows! Aren’t you the legendary Ike? That hero I’ve heard about from Tellius?”

    “That I am,” Ike replied. “But enough small talk. We need to go rejoin your captain up ahead.”

    “Oh right. I’m just so surprised he’s teamed up with you of all people!” Morris commented. “So, ah, now can someone untie me?”

    “Oh, I don't know,” Ranulf quipped, walking up to them. “You're pretty handy with that post, you should keep it.”

    “Oh, come on!” Morris insisted. “Please, this thing's heavy!”

    “Alright, you've earned it,” Ike replied, slicing through the ropes. “Besides, that little trick you used against the bandit leader took guts.”

    “And here I was thinking you were a lunatic,” Ranulf teased, noting Ike's annoyance. “Oh, give me a break! It's not like I was the only one thinking that when you ran across Riven Bridge during the Mad King’s War and started insulting Petrine so she'd fire her catapults at you instead of us.”

    “Yeah, well, you really need to get your kicks somewhere else,” Ike replied.

    “Thanks Ike,” Morris replied. “By the way, I forgot to mention one more thing. Those ruffians took my weapon and who knows what they did with it. I’ll need a new sword if I’m going to battle again.”

    “Hmm…that will be a problem if we were to run into anymore trouble,” Ike realized. “Trust me. I know how you feel.” He’d been reminded once again of his broken sword.

    “You do seem handy with that post though,” Ranulf opined, noticing several annoyed glances fixed on his. “No, I'm serious. Could you use that until you get another sword?”

    “Guess I don't have much of a choice,” Morris replied and swung the post over his shoulder. “I can probably use it as a club if we get into trouble. Let's go before we press our luck.”

    It didn’t take long for the group to find Bryan and Skye on another stretch of mountain trail. They started passing by the dead corpses of other bandits, suggesting the two had met more of them while the rest of the group battled to free Morris. It wasn’t hard to identify the dead bodies as bandits either due to the clothing and weapons. They were ragged, torn, and appeared to be quite worn out. Many of the bodies had axes and swords nearby, the common bandit weapons. Bryan and Skye were waiting and leaning up against a rocky wall at the end of this corpse line. Ike and Azura approached them first while the rest of the group followed behind.

    “Wow, Bryan. I take it you two ran into more of these guys back here?” Ike assumed.

    “Boy, did we!” Bryan confirmed. “This big group was trying to act as reinforcements for the ones you were fighting.”

    “Really? Good thing you decided to go ahead then,” Ike commented.

    “You’d better believe it. I have a feeling we still haven’t seen the last of this so called bandit army, though,” Bryan replied. “We’d better get moving or else we’ll get into more trouble.”

    “Agreed,” Ike replied as the group resumed their journey. “We’ve got Morris safe and sound, by the way.”

    “Ah, good. I knew I could count on you guys,” Byran said with a smile. “Morris, how did you get over here?”

    “And why the souvenir?” Skye added, noting the post.

    “I’m so sorry, Captain,” Morris replied, and gave Bryan the same story he’d told Ike on the way.

    “I see…” Bryan intoned, a hint of warning entering his tone. “Well, that’s the last time you go on a wild goose chase by yourself.”

    “Yeah, I suppose I deserve that,” Morris agreed with guilt.

    “Good. Now clean yourself up. We can’t have you wandering around with blood all over your arms,” Bryan ordered as if Morris were a child being lectured by his parent.

    “Yeah, yeah, I know,” Morris replied, producing a vulnerary to heal his injuries and mumbling to himself. “I hate it when he talks to me like that…”

    “He also told me that those bandits took his sword from him,” Ike added. “Are we getting close to that town you mentioned to me earlier?”

    “Ah, yes. As a matter of fact, we are,” Bryan confirmed. “Narcoss is just down this mountain.”

    “Oh, excellent,” Ike replied with pleasure. “I’m starting to miss using my sword. I just hope I won’t be delaying us too long.”

    “At least you actually have a normal weapon,” Morris complained, finding his healed arms didn’t make the post any lighter.

    “Nah,” Bryan assured. “The black—”

    “Daaah! Morris! Watch where you carry that thing, you big ox!” Skye exclaimed in slight shock as he ducked to avoid a near strike in the head by Morris’s post as he turned around with it over his shoulder.

    “Oh gee, pardon me! If my sword hadn’t gotten stolen, I wouldn’t be stuck with this hunk of wood in the first place!” Morris retaliated, his mood only growing more annoyed.

    “Well how about you stop being stupid for once and—”

    As I was saying,” Bryan interrupted angrily as he eyed his two quarreling troops and then returned his attention to Ike. “The blacksmith I’m acquainted with can make a dozen perfect silver blades in two to three days flat. You’ll be slicing and dicing bad guys with that sword of yours again in no time.”

    “Oh? Wonderful!” Ike replied, relieved and more than a little impressed.

    The last stretch of mountain trail before the town of Narcoss wasn’t much compared to what the group had been traveling through before. Instead of rocky and rugged terrain, they were headed down a more smooth, dirt road with trees and plants on either side. Ike was rather surprised to see such a thing, as the mountains back in Tellius were so steep, rocky, and sometimes high that no plants could grow on them at all. In fact, it didn’t feel much like he really was on a mountain, especially when the group finally reached the town of Narcoss, which was bigger than the average mountain town seemed to be in Talgria.

    Instead of just a small settlement with only a shop here and there, Narcoss was more like Galden, only there was no port due to the town being quite far from water. It had a little market area where the shops and inns were located. Houses here were somewhat larger than in the other little mountain villages, and obviously, Narcoss itself was more populous. People strode about the sidewalks and pathways every which way, going about their business. Whenever they saw the group of warriors arriving into their town, some gave surprised or rather strange looks, particularly when they set eyes on Ike. Ike, getting a bit red in the cheeks about it, did his best to act natural. The entire group came to a halt when Bryan led them to a blacksmith’s place near the market.

    “Well, here you are, Ike,” Bryan said upon their arrival. “Go in and ask for a man named Ryin. And don’t worry. You can count on him to get the job done pronto.”

    “Alright, thanks. I’ll try not to be too long,” Ike replied, and opened the armory’s front door.

    The place belonged to a blacksmith alright. It smelled heavily of metal, smoke, and flames. Hand-made blades of different shapes decorated some of the walls. Several books sat on a small shelf below them, probably containing information about forging weapons. Ingots of different metals such as iron and steel sat against another wall alongside various molds for varied blades, likely used to give the molten metal shape. Through a doorway, copiously marked with signs dissuading entry, Ike could make out a smith's hammer ascending and descending to make resounding impact upon hot metal. The smith's workspace, no doubt, and he was clearly at work.

    “Just my luck,” Ike muttered, rolling his eyes. “Well, I hope he’s as fast as Bryan says he is.”

    As Ike was about to speak and make his arrival noticeable, a young boy who appeared to be in his early teen years spotted him. However, he didn’t speak for several seconds. And, trying not to let his irritation show, Ike quickly deduced why.

    “Ah! I…um, can I help you, sir?” the boy finally asked, snapping himself out of his stupefied trance.

    “Yeah. I believe I’m looking for a man called Ryin?” Ike inquired. “I was directed here by an acquaintance of mine.”

    “Oh, okay. Hold on for a sec,” the boy replied. He immediately bolted towards the smith’s workplace in the back of the building.

    “Mr. Ryin! Mr. Ryin! You’re not going to believe who’s here to see us!” the boy could be heard shouting from another room.

    “Kye!” an older man's voice replied, alarmed and irritated. “You know you're not supposed to come in here when I'm working. You're downwind of the sparks and smoke and both are very bad for you.”

    “Mr. Ryin, I wouldn't be in here if it wasn't important!” the boy insisted, bouncing about as if he'd just inhaled several pounds of pure sugar. “The swordsman just walked in!”

    “Peculiar name, the Swordsman,” the older man, Ryin, replied humorously. “Must've looked interesting on the birth certificate. Oh, now don't bounce around in here! You know hot iron is dangerous...oh, alright! I need to douse this anyway.”

    Kye practically bolted out of the room, running so fast he collided with Ike and went sprawling. Ryin emerged moments later, a glowing nearly-finished sword held in tongs, but nearly dropped it when he saw who Kye had just run into. Ryin appeared to be around the same age as Ike’s deceased father, who had been in his late thirties at the time of his death. The aged-looking light blonde hair revealed it all too well. Yet, the man was about the same height as Ike, if not shorter. The man stopped in his tracks when he saw his newest customer standing before him. His eyebrows rose in recognition and surprise. Ike could guess exactly what he was thinking, and tried not to let it get to him.

    “Well I’ll be,” the man said. “So it’s true. The hero Ike has come to Altarais. Many folks were saying you’ve been spotted in Galden.”

    “Well, they’re right,” Ike confirmed. “This “oh wow, it’s Ike” business is getting old though.”

    “Haha, I don’t blame you,” the man replied, depositing the weapon in a pail of water to let it cool. “I’d bet being this famous could get annoying. I’m Ryin and this boy is my apprentice, Kye. What can I do for you?”

    “I came to get my broken sword re-forged. Your friend, Bryan said you’d be best for the job,” Ike explained. “Take a look.”

    With that, Ike produced the two halves of Ettard once more. Ryin’s eyes widened upon what he saw. Cracks were all over the areas of the two halves where Ettard had snapped, and a zig-zag pattern outlined the same area, making the blade half take a shape similar to a skinny pine tree.

    “Whoa. Anyone who could break a blade like this must really do some intense fighting,” he commented. “How’d you manage to make this happen?”

    “Well, it wasn’t really my fault…” Ike replied. He then told the entire story of Ettard being stolen, then Ike fighting with an axe to get it back, only to have his opponent accidentally break the sword by causing a rockslide to fall on it.

    “Wow. No wonder the break looks so bad. It isn’t anything I can’t handle though,” Ryin commented. “And just for you, since you’re such a special warrior and a new friend of Bryan’s, I can do this job for free. I’ll make it an even more powerful weapon than before!”

    “Oh? Great! Thanks,” Ike responded with a smile.

    “By the way, is Bryan here? I’d like to see how my old buddy is doing,” Ryin continued.

    “Sure, everyone who’s with us is outside,” Ike informed the smith. As he and Ryin headed for the front door, leaving Ettard’s two halves behind on a worktable, Kye began to follow and spoke up first.

    “Hey, Ike! Is my big brother with you too? You know, his name is Skye,” he asked.

    “He’s your brother?” Ike inquired.

    “Yep! Kye and Skye. We actually like our similar names!” Kye replied cheerfully.

    “I see. He’s with us too.”

    “Awesome!”

    Upon arriving outside, the first thing Ike noticed was that some of the group had disappeared. Only Ranulf, Azura, Bryan, and Skye remained. Marc, Leona, and Morris were nowhere in sight. Wondering where the rest of the group had gone off to, Ike decided to inquire about that matter first.

    “Hey, where is everybody?” he wondered.

    “Oh, there you are, Ike,” Bryan replied. “The others went to stock up on some food and supplies. I see Ryin has come out with you.”

    “Yep! How are things with you and the soldiers, buddy?” Ryin asked with a smile.

    “Oh, swell. My platoon came to Galden to do what we had to and we were easily victorious,” Bryan recalled. “Of course, then we had to clean up yet again another one of Morris’s messes…” Upon reminding himself of Morris’s capture, Bryan folded his arms in annoyance.

    “Morris? Haha, isn’t he the lug who seems to get into trouble every now and then?” Ryin wondered with a chuckle.

    “Yeah, that’s him,” Byran confirmed. “We’re on another mission now, one that wasn’t actually supposed to fall to us, but even so, we’re doing it.”

    “Oh?” Ryin inquired, arching an eyebrow.

    “What he said. We’re escorting Azura here to Aracion to meet with King Talgria,” Ike explained. The whole story spanning the events starting with Elincia and Ranulf finding Ike and Azura in the mountains to the point they were at now was given to Ryin, who listened carefully with every word spoken. However, in the end, his smile had turned into a frown of disappointment. At first, Ryin was reluctant to say anything, but eventually spoke up anyway.

    “That’s one good bit of a story there,” he finally commented. “But I’m afraid coming here won’t do you much.”

    “What do you mean?” Ranulf asked, having been the one to explain the camp disaster.

    “The road from here out of the mountains that leads to Aracion is blocked up,” Ryin replied, wishing he could have given better news.

    “What?!” Bryan exclaimed in shock.

    “But how?” Azura added, trying to keep the lingering aches from her near miss out of her voice.

    “No idea. Probably a rockslide. We found it like that just recently, right after we felt some strong tremors the other day,” Ryin explained. “And as you probably know, the mountains to the south of here are plagued with bandits while the ones up north are impassable.”

    “This is just wonderful,” Bryan retorted, not bothering to hide his displeasure.

    “Well, now what do we do?” Ranulf asked. “We can’t go through bandit land or else we’ll probably be suffering unneeded casualties.”

    “True…” Azura replied. “I guess we’ll have to head out of the mountains, go north through the Talgrian forests, and then into Eraghoa. Perhaps we can find some help there. It really is our only option. We can’t take a boat either because bandits are probably looking for me everywhere in Talgria by now.”

    “As much as I’d hate to admit it, she’s right,” Bryan agreed. “We have to search for some aid where those bandits haven’t been yet. This really makes me angry though. What’s our king going to think of all this?”

    “Who knows? Though he shouldn’t be upset with any of us since it’s not our fault we’re going to be late,” Ike pointed out.

    “Also, we won’t easily be spotted in the forest if we use the trees and underbrush as cover,” Ranulf added. “I would know, seeing as my home is full of them.”

    Upon Ranulf’s tip, everyone agreed that Azura’s idea of going to Eraghoa was the best choice they had. Eraghoa to the north was the home of the continent’s wolf laguz, a race Ike, Ranulf, and Elincia had seen little of in Tellius. Only twice were they seen in their lands, once when Ike took down the wolf king, and a second time when they met the queen, Nailah and one of her servants, Volug. They had provided aid in the war against Ashera. The tale about the wolf king, however, must have been kept a secret from Nailah to preserve the tenuous bond between the wolf tribe and Crimea, especially since Ike had slain the wolf king himself. Still, Ike often wondered if there could still be another explanation to a connection between both tribes.

    “So, I guess we’re going to stay here for the night and make for Eraghoa tomorrow?” Elincia guessed. “It’s getting much too late to start now, and we’ve done so much traveling already.”

    As Elincia had implied, the sun was all but gone from the sky. No one had noticed it had grown dark until that moment.

    “Yeah, it’s best that we do that too,” Bryan agreed. “Luckily, I had my troops set up camp just outside of this town. I’ll let you all bunk with us for the night.”

    “Ah, thanks. I was wondering how we’d find a place to stay on such short notice,” Ike replied. “Besides, with all the attention I’m attracting, I’d rather not have a whole inn beating down my door for autographs or something. But anyway, in the morning, I’ll pick up my sword and we can get out of here. Sound good?”

    “Works for me,” Bryan agreed. “Skye, why don’t you go inform the others?”

    “Sure thing,” Skye replied. “I’ll meet you back at camp.”

    Bryan motioned the remainder of the group to follow him away from Ryin’s armory upon Skye’s departure from his companions. Silence befell them as they traveled through the streets and towards the outskirts of town. Many townspeople were going about their business, running outdoor shops, meeting acquaintances, and perhaps other tasks, unaware of the possible dangers that could affect them. Just as the group exited the market, they found themselves clearing the road at the approach of what appeared to be a traveling merchant caravan. A woman was driving the lead horse cart and, upon setting eyes on Bryan, her face lit up with delight while Bryan’s lit up with distress.

    “Well, well, look who decided to reappear in Narcoss of all places!” she blurted with a punchy smile.

    “Oh no…” Bryan groaned, gritting his teeth. “Misty, this is neither the time, nor the place. I’m on strict duty here.”

    “Yeah, I know,” Misty replied, not sounding deterred. “I figured as much, seeing as you’ve got some new friends. I’m just surprised to see you here again after you know what, Bryan.”

    “Don’t you dare bring that up!” Bryan demanded, his tone abruptly turning hostile. “You know how I feel about those memories!”

    “Yes, yes, I’m only saying,” Misty insisted, sensing she’d hit too raw a nerve. “Now I’ll let you carry on with your so-called duty. Ta ta for now!” With that, Misty carried on with her travels.

    “What was that all about?” Azura wondered in confusion.

    “Nothing. She’s just a shop girl I knew as kid. Let’s keep moving,” Bryan bluntly replied with annoyance. Clearly something about her deeply angered Bryan, but whatever it was, Azura decided it was too sore a subject to inquire about for the time being.

  7. #7
    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    It's been awhile, so here's chapter 6. :3


    Chapter 6: An Act of Thievery


    While Bryan was leading his half of the group to where his platoon’s camp was located, Skye continued to seek out Marc, Leona, and Morris. Because Narcoss was about the same size as Galden, hunting everyone down would not be an easy task in the bustling mountain community. However, Skye remembered Bryan’s saying what they’d originally separated from the group to do, so it was very likely that they had remained in the market, especially since Morris still needed another sword and fresh provisions were always a must. Skye hadn’t been searching for very long when he suddenly got the feeling that he was being watched. Then, he heard soft footsteps, so light and quiet that he had to strain his ears to hear them. Unsure as to exactly what it was, for he doubted these bandits could be so stealthy, Skye halted in his footsteps. He hadn’t been given enough time to think, unfortunately, and snatched his bow and an arrow as he whirled around to confront his pursuer.

    “Whoa there, big bro!” a familiar voice behind him called out in some semblance of alarm. Skye paused to see his younger brother down range of his arrow with his hands up in a gesture of surrender.

    “Ugh, not now…” he mumbled. “You really shouldn’t sneak up on people like that, especially in dangerous times. What do you want, Kye?”

    “I just want to say hi and you nearly turn me into a pin cushion, geez,” Kye replied haughtily, brushing his foot across the ground. “So, aren’t you feeling lucky to be hanging with Ike of all people?”

    “…Ike is Ike. He doesn’t wish for people to constantly praise him for his deeds,” Skye explained. “Although, I admit I was surprised to find him, but…”

    “But? Skye, he’s a legend!” Kye pointed out, bewildered at Skye’s nonchalance. “Anyone ought to feel lucky to work alongside someone as great as Ike. Why, I almost asked him for an autograph.”

    “Oh come off it. I don’t think he’s the type to do that.”

    “Fine. I guess I wouldn’t want to end up being annoying anyway.”

    “Psh, you already are,” Skye muttered to himself.

    “What was that you said?!” Kye snapped. “I hope you weren’t mumbling about Ike under your breath, Blue Skye!”

    “No. But it doesn’t matter what I said. Run along now and leave me to my business,” Skye ordered. “And if you don’t stop calling me that every time—”

    “Or what?”

    “Or…argh! Just go do your job and don’t sneak up on people like that again! I don’t have time for this,” Skye retorted, lost in thought. He turned around and attempted to resume his mission. Kye, however, simply bore a punchy smile as he followed his older brother once more.

    “Aren’t you forgetting something, Skye?” he asked in a rather sneaky tone. Skye turned back around to find the boy’s hand holding up a steel bow. Kye began to dash away immediately, having plucked it from Skye’s back while he’d been turned around.

    “Why you little—! Come back here!” Skye yelled, immediately giving chase.

    The camp belonging to Bryan’s platoon was uncannily similar in layout to that of the bandits during Ike’s attempt to rescue his sword, which he looked ever so forward to using once again. The tents were, however, heavy canvas rather than rawhide and arranged in almost straight lines and each bore the same orange-brown color as the one standing next to it. However, layout was the only similarity and by far. The mere appearance alone suggested it belonged to Talgrian soldiers rather than ruffians, and the entire area even had a better aroma. Numerous soldiers in golden orange armor roamed the tents and pathways, some chatting with each other while others went about tending to their weapons and armor or patrolling the camp perimeter.

    Bryan led his newest allies towards the pavilion situated in the heart of the camp, which was nearly twice the size the other tents were and likely served to house the platoon’s officers as well as doubling as a conference room and a place to store maps and other important documents. On the way, he explained that he’d ordered his men to await him in this town while the group had gone to pay a visit to Lorelle. Once everyone had settled themselves on the surprisingly comfortable wooden chairs situated at the long table inside the massive tent, they awaited Bryan’s tent assignments as he produced a rather tattered scroll. He unrolled it before speaking once more.

    “While we await Skye’s return with the remainder of our group, I’ll give you four tents first,” Bryan decided. “You might end up sharing with someone though. We only have so much room. Now let’s see how many here are vacant…”

    As Bryan examined his scroll, Ike and Elincia exchanged glances upon hearing the Halberdier’s words. Ranulf immediately read their minds.

    “Uh oh… I can see where this is going,” he warned in a sarcastically worried tone.

    “Haha, indeed. Ike and Elincia would never mind sharing a tent,” Azura laughed.

    “Yeah, you’ve read us…” Ike admitted, going very pink in the cheeks.

    “Just behave yourselves in there, alright?” Ranulf replied as if he were talking to young children.

    “Of course, Ranulf. What makes you think we wouldn’t?” Elincia asked, giggling as if she were the most perfect little angel one would ever meet.

    “The tone of your voice for one thing. For another, I was partially kidding,” Ranulf admitted. “You two have had practically no time alone together since you first reunited anyway. Still, don’t overdo it.”

    “We won’t,” Ike replied, giving a promising smile. “Besides, I’d rather not in a tent anyway.”

    The group had forgotten that Bryan had no knowledge of the relationship between Ike and Elincia, but, after a moment of puzzlement, he soon made himself known.

    “Heh, young love. You guys have it bad for one another, don’t you?”

    “They sure do,” Azura replied before Ike or Elincia could. “Aren’t they a cute couple?”

    “Azura, come on, you’re embarrassing me,” Ike insisted, his cheeks becoming rosy once more.

    “Aw, but it’s true, Ike!” Azura argued kindly. “Even though I haven’t even seen you two kiss yet, I think you both are absolutely adorable.”

    “Oh yeah, you haven’t seen us kiss yet, have you?” Elincia added, giggling with excitement. “So far, Ranulf is the only one here who has. Why don’t we show you now?”

    “Hey, I’m sure she—wait, what?” Ike replied, having caught what Elincia said a bit too late. “Elincia, what if other sol—”

    He didn’t get to finish his sentence. As Ike had been talking, Elincia’s face had moved closer to his own until their lips met in an interlocking embrace again. Ike knew very well he could never resist any moment his lips touched those of the woman he loved, and this case was no exception. Somehow, the moment felt exactly as it had three years before during the first time their lips ever met. Elincia had surprised Ike during that night as well, making the current moment a pleasant echo as they, just as awkwardly as back then, let their tongues cross the threshold to probe each other’s mouths. Azura giggled at the sight of her two friends, delighted at how Ike’s despondence had been thoroughly shattered by Elincia’s return and the potential blackmail material she was witnessing.

    “Aw, they really are adorable together,” Azura commented.

    “Women…” Ranulf mumbled under his breath and slouched over on the table.

    “I heard that!” Azura retorted. By now, Ike, since he was seated directly next to her, had pulled Elincia into his slim, but fit lap, his large, muscular arms around her rather attractive waistline. Elincia herself allowed her arms to navigate around Ike’s neck in a rather tight grip. Ranulf was as happy as ever for the reuniting of the two lovers embracing before him, but it did get a little old too fast, especially since he could never have either of the girls he loved from the very beginning.

    “Are you two lovebirds ever going to be finished over there?” he asked, having seated himself right across the table from the two. “I’d be surprised if you didn’t kiss each other’s lips off.” Azura burst into laughter upon hearing Ranulf’s words. Ike and Elincia had just then let go of each other, and while she was still in his lap, Elincia added on to Azura’s reaction. Ike simply made a smirk.

    “Very funny,” he replied.

    “Oh come on, Ike! That was funny! I guess we did go a little overboard this time though,” Elincia admitted, still smiling and laughing slightly. “And I know what you were going to say. Since when did you care if other soldiers were watching? Remember when you suddenly kissed me before leaving to go deal with those wolves back in Tellius? The whole Crimean Army was watching. Even Geoffrey saw it!”

    With that, Elincia giggled once more while Ike’s cheeks when rosy for the third time.

    “Well, I…th-that was different. I-I had a reason…sort of,” Ike stammered, unable to prevent the embarrassment of those memories from flowing through his veins.

    “Oh, really?” Elincia replied, sarcasm easily detectable in her still giggling voice. Ike didn’t answer, but simply slid his hand over his face. By the goddess, I am an idiot, he thought. Although Ike really did have a reason at that time, being that he wanted to test Geoffrey’s reaction to such a scene and thinking he might have loved Elincia at the time as well, he had still been embarrassed by the way he’d responded to it in front of his comrades.

    “Ahem…well, if you all are finished, I’d like to put you in tents now,” Bryan cut in.

    “Oh yeah, sorry about that,” Azura apologized.

    “Think on it no further,” Bryan reassured Azura. “Now, I’m guessing you four will want to be close together and nearer to town. This shouldn’t be a problem. With the bandits so active these days, we’ve been bolstering our watches so that more soldiers are patrolling the perimeter. Since the patrols will be larger but have shorter durations, we should be able to protect the camp without wearying everybody to the bone and you should have enough space to yourselves.”

    “Sounds good to me,” Ranulf commented, and the others quickly agreed.

    “Glad to hear it,” Bryan replied. “Alright, there are two vacant tents just on the edge of the camp facing the town. Ranulf, Azura, you each take one. There’s a third tent just across the way; Ike, Elincia, you both can share that tent. Don’t make me regret it.”

    “I don’t like the sound of that,” Elincia teased, pretending to be offended.

    “I do say, sir,” Ike seconded, getting in on the act and doing so with an outrageous accent. “There is an insinuation in your words that I simply cannot abide. You are in the presence of a true, Crimean gentleman and I will not have you impugning upon the cultural and historical sanctity of my upbringing.”

    By the time Ike had finished his slightly overdone retort, everyone in the tent was ready to burst a seam holding in their laughter. Bryan simply met Ike’s gaze coolly.

    “Well, mister gentleman,” he replied, his expression impossibly calm. “While I am impressed and humbled that you would expend the grueling effort to ask permission before making out in public, I must inform you that I cannot be held responsible for any children conceived in your tent.”

    If Ike and Elincia weren’t red before, they certainly were now. And Ranulf and Azura ended up laughing so hard they toppled out of their chairs, which didn’t help much either.

    “Touche,” Ranulf sniggered.

    “Touche?” Azura repeated, gasping for breath. “Try ‘overkill.’”

    Ike was about to retort with something to the effect of ‘We’ll get you back for this when you two find someone’ when the tent flaps were pulled back to reveal Skye. A little sweat lined his forehead while dampened parts of his light blue hair stuck to his fair skin. Skye paused to catch his breath before speaking.

    “Sorry if I took too long,” he apologized. “But everyone’s here now.”

    “Nah, you’re alright,” Bryan replied as Marc, Leona, and Morris had finally stepped inside. “You all wait here. I’ll be right back.” Bryan motioned Ike, Elincia, Ranulf, and Azura to follow him. The group of five passed through the tent’s open flap and back into the blazing sunlight that shown upon the entire camp site. Immediately, Bryan began showing each one to their tent, each having been emptied for them. The one Ike and Elincia had taken stood at the far end of the line of tents on the left, close to where the group had originally entered the camp. Azura was across from them while Ranulf was to the direct right of the red-haired mercenary. Ike and Elincia almost instantly began to settle themselves inside their tent, having not had a chance to rest in quite some time. Aside from a burning lantern hanging from a hook on the tent’s support and a solitary sleeping bag, which Ike and Elincia noticed with equal parts delight and embarrassment, the tent was empty. And it was a good thing too, for neither of the lovers were terribly careful about where they threw their heavy armor and packs.

    “My, am I glad to finally get this bag off of my shoulders,” Elincia spoke first, removing the dirty gold shoulder bag from around her body and dropping it in a corner. “I hadn’t packed much in there, but it was getting heavy anyway, especially when I haven’t had the chance to let go of it since I got off that boat until now.”

    “Ha, if you think that’s bad, try lugging around half a suit of armor for that long,” Ike countered. Elincia figured he was probably right. That shoulder guard alone had to weigh more than twice as much as the single chest plate Elincia wore nowadays, having gotten rid of her own shoulder guards before departing Castle Crimea. Add the weight of Ike’s shin guards and single wrist guard, and Elincia came to the conclusion that Ike’s statement was the complete truth.

    “Yeah, you’ve got a point there,” she smiled. “Speaking of which, why are you always only half-armored?”

    “To trick the enemy. If they try attacking my unguarded side, I’ll surprise them by shifting around and letting them hit the armor instead,” Ike replied. “That way, I gain speed, and I save myself extra weight that would just slow me down. And in a pinch, this is great for punching or shoulder checking the enemy.”

    “Oh yeah, that makes a lot of sense,” Elincia agreed. “Sometimes I can’t believe you once said you’d never surpass your father, you know that? I really think you have.”

    “Honestly? I still don’t think I can ever be the man he was,” Ike admitted, somewhat startled by the praise.

    “Nonsense. You’re every bit the leader and warrior Master Greil was,” Elincia argued with a smile. “I can see why Titania had such affection for him.”

    “And your point is?” Ike wondered, trying not to blush.

    “Ike, if you’re the equal of your father, then you’re as every bit as great as he was in every way,” Elincia declared, moving closer to Ike. “But to me, you’re better than any warrior I’ve ever known.”

    “Oh yeah? And what makes you say that?”

    Elincia didn’t answer Ike’s question in words. She simply let her arms slide across Ike’s shoulders once more and pressed her lips against his, engaging them both in another long and passionate kiss. It was all the answer Ike needed, and he knew it all too well as he grasped Elincia’s waist once more. With a sudden motion that elicited a yelp from Elincia, Ike vaulted to his side to pin her beneath him.

    “Well, I certainly can’t argue with that logic, now can I?” Ike said in a jokingly manner when they finally let go, a somewhat wide grin on his face. Elincia simply giggled in happiness. Ike swooped in, letting his lips seek purchase on her neck, and Elincia writhed and giggled in response.

    “Stop that!” she screeched. “It tickles.” That proved to be exactly the wrong thing to say, for Ike smirked broadly and continued.

    “Oh, you rogue!” Elincia teased, her giggles turning to moans as Ike’s lips migrated to her throat.

    “I’m not a Rogue, I’m a Hero,” Ike corrected teasingly, taking delight in Elincia rolling her eyes.

    “Maybe, but I can be roguish when I wish,” Elincia retorted, unleashing a barrage of tickles.

    “Hey!” Ike gasped. “Don’t...hahaha! Cut that out...hahahaha...I’m warning you!”

    His warning didn’t seem to work for Elincia, taking advantage of Ike’s weakening grips, shoved him off of her and onto his back. She then climbed on top of him and continued the onslaught while trailing kisses wherever she could reach. Ike, his cheeks flushed, had been laughing and moaning lustily until he was breathless.

    “My, my,” Elincia quipped. “Who would’ve guessed you could be defeated in such a fashion?”

    “Only by you, I rather doubt Zelgius would’ve tried this,” Ike shot back sarcastically.

    “Don’t worry, I’m joking,” she reassured. “Besides, he wanted to see if he could surpass your father.”

    “True. You do remember that Bryan said no bab—um...not to go too far in here?” he asked, hoping the pair wasn’t getting carried away.

    “I know,” Elincia answered, a note of pleading entering her tone. “Still, with our luck, it could be a while before we have another chance to be alone. We should enjoy it.”

    Ike was convinced, and he was counterattacking. Taking advantage of Elincia’s relaxed grip, he flipped her over and pinned her again. Then, after a laugh at her cutely agitated expression, he began to lavish her with kisses. Elincia moaned in pleasure, unbuckling her chest plate and slipping off the chainmail she wore underneath, but resolved that the padded leather jerkin she wore beneath would stay right where it was. Bryan’s less-than-diplomatic jab about...baby making had a certain appeal, especially with Ike, but she knew now was not the time. Ike, thankfully, had reached the same conclusion but had no compunction against pushing the edge for, though he made no effort to remove her jerkin, his hands strayed beneath it quite often to caress her skin and tease at her breasts. Elincia’s moaning became more frantic as she intercepted his lips with her own. Ike, not to be outdone, let his tongue lance into Elincia’s mouth and probed her delicately. Eventually, an annoying little thing called breathing became necessary.

    “Wow,” Elincia gasped lustily, her chest heaving from exertion amongst other things. “That was incredible. Correction, you are incredible.”

    “Why thank you,” Ike replied, equally breathless. “Can we continue or are you tired?”

    Elincia pretended, rather unconvincingly, to think it over before bowling into Ike to pin him against the central support of the tent and grasping both his wrists.

    “My turn,” she declared teasingly, and began trailing kisses over his face.

    “One thing,” Ike murmured, Elincia’s darting lips making it hard to finish a sentence. “There’s one sleeping bag and two of us; that’s a little cramped, don’t you think?”

    “Wonder if Bryan did that on purpose?” Elincia said aloud before ramming her tongue into Ike’s mouth. “Besides, I don’t mind. Do you?”

    Ike’s only answer was to give her a look that said ‘you’re kidding, right?’ before extricating a hand to slip under the bottom edge of Elincia’s tunic and letting it creep upward. Elincia, her head craning back and moans escaping her lips, lost her grip on Ike’s other arm which promptly joined its brother in caressing her torso.

    What the couple did not realize, and probably wouldn’t have cared about in any case, was that the lantern in the tent was casting their shadows against the canvas and thus, their loving shenanigans were being presented as a shadow play to all onlookers. Bryan noted this, as did Ranulf and Azura and pretty much everyone who passed by the couple’s tent for any reason. Bryan looked on with irritation as several soldiers passed the tent, noted the shadow play, and made quiet cheers of a lewd nature.

    “Please tell me they’re not doing what I think they are,” he asked no one in particular.

    “Nope,” Ranulf replied after inhaling quickly. “I don’t smell anything untoward and if I don’t smell it, that means it’s not there.”

    “That’s a relief... Sort of,” Bryan quipped.

    “Oh, cut them some slack,” Azura reprimanded, apparently forgetting that letting the couple share a tent was their slack. “It’s been over two months since they’ve been together and who knows when they’ll have another chance. Besides, with the road out of Narcoss to Aracion blocked, it’ll be a long trip.”

    “Fine,” Bryan replied. “But I’ll have to have a chat with them about this in the morning.”

    With that, Bryan headed back to the pavilion to double check their route to Aracion. Azura, growing sleepy despite her delight, let out a yawn.

    “Well, I’m getting tired and my pendant is looking a bit dingy,” she announced. “Good night Ranulf.”

    The cat laguz nodded in reply and glanced back at the shadowy smooch-fest being projected on the surface of the tent. This time, that tinge of envy over losing both Lethe and Lyre, first to his own indecision and then probably to other men, was far stronger. In fact, it preoccupied him so much, that he didn’t notice a small shadow dart in and out of Azura’s tent nor the golden glimmer the shadow clutched in-hand. Some minutes later, the gasping and thoroughly lovesick Ike and Elincia had come to a rest after tickling each other once more.

    “I can’t even remember when I last had such a good time,” Elincia gasped. “I’m so glad I was able to find you.”

    Ike was about to say something in reply when a sudden piercing scream echoed throughout the campsite. It didn’t take long for them to figure out where the cry had come from after nearly jumping upon the familiar feminine cry as it scorched their ears.

    “...That was Azura!” Ike realized, speaking first. “Come on!” Elincia was not hesitant to follow as Ike took her by the hand. They quickly bolted out of the tent, extremely worried expressions on their faces, and halted at the entrance, only to be joined by Bryan, Ranulf, and the others, as well as several of the Talgrian soldiers. Azura’s scream had been too loud for anyone in the campsite not to hear.

    “Azura, what’s wrong?” Ike called worriedly. “May we come in?”

    “S-Sure…” the frightened mercenary replied. Immediately through the flaps came Ike, Elincia, Ranulf, and Bryan, who instructed the others to return to their stations.

    “Azura, what was the screaming for?” Bryan asked. Azura didn’t immediately answer. Her face was covered in tears, and fear shone clearly in her expression.

    “Well come on, out with it,” Ike insisted. “We’re all worried.”

    “Ike…my-my pendant. It’s…it’s gone!” Azura sobbed.

    “What?!” Ike gasped. “How is that possible?! You always wear it!”

    “I’m wondering the same thing,” Bryan agreed.

    “I…I don’t know. I took it off so I could clean it,” Azura explained, her voice clashing with her teary emotion. “It had gotten a little dirty due to all the battling. I turned my back for a mere minute to grab a cloth from my things, and then when I went to pick it up again, it wasn’t there anymore!”

    “Huh? Either I’m crazy, or that just makes no sense,” Ranulf commented. “How can anyone slip into the camp, get into the tent, steal the pendant, and get back out without anyone seeing him?”

    “I’m with Ranulf on this one,” Ike agreed. “Only a fool would even think to make such an attempt.”

    “I don’t know, guys,” Bryan countered. “Notice the pendant is not anywhere on the ground in here. It can’t simply slide outside either. The firm ground makes it impossible. Someone must be that skilled at thievery, which is definitely a bad sign. As such, I’m reporting this to the others. If the thief is still in the camp then we should tighten our patrols so he can’t get back out.” With that, Bryan made his exit immediately.

    “Well, I still don’t get how someone pulled this off, but…” Ike began.

    “Hey! Look at this!” Elincia cried, having kneeled over beside Ike to pluck something from the hard ground. She opened her hand to reveal a small, but rather dirty brown lock pick. Inscribed on its metal surface was the letter K. Ike eyed it suspiciously, wondering where it could have possibly come from. Azura also examined it, but just merely glancing at the rust-covered piece of metal only continued to feed her fear. What was the meaning behind this theft? Why do the bandits who have pursued her for so long want her pendant so badly? What exactly was so special about it to make it an apparently valuable treasure, or to connect it to the ruins in the mountains for that matter? Azura only hoped that King Talgria would be able to reveal the answers to these enigmas. That is, if she and her comrades ever find a new route to Aracion in order to even meet him at all.

    “Well, I guess that explains why our thief is so good at what he does,” Ike deduced. “Only rogues carry those.”

    “Yeah. We’d better show this to Bryan,” Elincia agreed. “It might be a good idea to...redress as well, in case we can catch the thief.” Ike, not the one to be hesitant about such an idea, followed Elincia back through the long draped doorway of the tent to quickly re-don their armor and then rejoin Bryan, who was consistently speaking with the other soldiers present at the camp perimeter. Ike made no hesitation to politely interrupt the third platoon’s commanding officer.

    “Hey Bryan, we’ve got something we think you should see.”

    Elincia held out the lock pick, both her and Ike eager to know whether or not it was a valuable clue to their predicament.

    “A lock pick? Where’d you find that?” Bryan inquired.

    “It was on the floor in Azura’s tent,” Elincia replied. “I haven’t the faintest idea who it might belong to. If you don’t have any Rogues in your platoon, which I doubt you do, then maybe it belongs to the thief.”

    Before Bryan could say anything more, another familiar face immediately raced to the scene to see the metal object still resting in Elincia’s hand. It was Skye, and the expression he put on his face when he examined the lock pick migrated from curiosity to shock and then to anger and frustration.

    “Hey! This is my brother’s!” he exclaimed. “Where’d you find it?”

    No one gave a reply. Instead, Bryan, Ike, and Elincia simply stared at the archer, frozen where they now stood. Kye was the thief? Ike was thunderstruck at the notion so he didn’t notice Skye snatch the lock pick for a closer look, nearly bending it with an angry fist.

    “Wait…don’t tell me. It was in the tent, wasn’t it?!” Skye demanded, an angry tone developing in his voice.

    “Well, it was, but—” Ike began. However, an enraged Skye cut him off.

    “I knew it!” he shouted, wishing he could slam his fist against something. “KYE! Where are you, you little termite?! If you’re anywhere near here, you’d better show yourself or so help me I’ll—!”

    “Skye! Get ahold of yourself,” Bryan ordered. “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for this.”

    “There better be, or that boy is in gigantic trouble,” Skye threatened. A crime like this was very low for even a boy like Kye to do, and the young archer knew it. However, it was no excuse to let it go unpunished, especially if Kye really did have dishonorable motives. Before anyone could get in another word, however, a figure appeared running in the distance straight for the camp. It was a figure of short stature, suggesting it was either a child or a small teenager. Eventually, light blue hair, a long and worn brown scarf, blue shirt, and gray pants came into view, and the revealed boy was easily recognizable by the time he approached the camp’s borders. It was Kye and his facial expression was more than just worried.

    “Kye! You little thief! You stole the pendant, didn’t you?!” Skye yelled, unable to hold back his anger.

    “Skye, I can explain!” Kye squealed, nearly in fear. “Honest!”

    “Where is it?!” Skye demanded. “You’d better tell me or Ryin is going to hear about this!”

    “No! Don’t tell him! Please! I beg you, Skye!” Kye pleaded, tears forming in his eyes. “If you do, he’d probably strip me of dagger forging lessons for a month!”

    “Then hand over the pendant!”

    “I-I don’t have it!”

    “Is that the best lie you can come up with?”

    “Skye! For the love of the goddess, leave the boy alone already!” Bryan cut in. “Let him explain!”

    For once, Skye forced himself to back down. He knew he’d be horrible to continue yelling at his brother, not to mention setting a bad example for anyone witnessing, including Kye himself.

    “W-well, you see, I’m a Rogue, and while Skye was away in the Talgrian Army, I trained myself in thievery,” Kye began. “I’ve been doing it for years. I used to steal for survival because I was alone after our parents died and I was too young to go with Skye at the time. He wanted to come home to take care of me, but was forced to stay due to extremely important missions, or so he told me. So I lived on the streets, getting better each day at stealing food and gold so I wouldn’t starve…”

    “Go on,” Ike insisted.

    “Finally, when Skye decided he was through letting me live my life like that, he told Bryan our story and he offered to ask Mr. Ryin if he could take me on as an apprentice, which of course, Mr. Ryin agreed to,” Kye continued, Ike’s presence seeming to lend him the calm needed to speak. “Since then, I’ve used my thieving skills only to help people in need.”

    He explained further that just after the very group he was talking to had arrived in town and went to stay at Bryan’s campsite, he was doing an errand for Ryin when a middle-aged looking man approached him. The man seemed to be a kind, but poor fellow, and desperately asked Kye for help. He told him of a gold pendant he lost to a gang of vicious thieves who stole for themselves, and that he wanted it back ever so much. It was his sole remaining family heirloom.

    “The old man pointed me right to this camp, and the very first tent I checked had a gold pendant, so I easily snatched it without being noticed,” Kye went on, suddenly deciding that allowing a gloating edge into his word about how easy the theft was would be a very bad idea. “I returned to the old man and gave it to him, but when he reached out to take it, I saw that he had a pirate tattoo on his arm. Like an idiot, I gasped at the sight and he realized I was on to him. He shouted and I got kidnapped by his bandit friends once they knew I saw through their disguises. Luckily, I was able to escape easily and find all of you. They must’ve noticed I’m gone by now and are sure to be looking for me. I tell you, I was tricked into doing this! I swear!”

    “Oh really?” Skye replied, his tone snarky and his skepticism obvious. “Why do I find it hard to believe you didn’t just take it simply to earn a little extra money? I know you and your selfishness, Kye.”

    “Skye! I’m not lying! Please believe me!” Kye begged. “I know I’ve acted selfish in the past, but I decided to change that after Mr. Ryin took me in!”

    “Prove it then!” Skye demanded.

    “I think he’s telling the truth,” Ike cut in. “Skye, you know very well that bandits have been targeting Azura and her pendant for a long time. It’s just like them to fool a young boy into doing their bidding.”

    “Exactly,” Bryan agreed. “Skye, apologize to your brother.”

    “Psh, look at you, you sound like my mother. I don’t need you to tell me that,” Skye retorted and focused his attention on Kye once more. “Still…I’m sorry. I got angry because I knew this was a new low for you.”

    “It’s alright big bro. I should learn to be a little less naïve,” Kye admitted. “I fell for their trick so easily.”

    Skye was about to make his reply when several sets of footsteps began echoing from the very same direction Kye had entered from. The group instantly forgot their conversation and turned their attention to the new arrivals, only to be quite displeased to see who it was.

    “‘Ey! There’s the little runt!” a deep, gruff voice yelled. “Ya won’t bust us that easily, boy!”

    “…Yep. I should have guessed from the beginning that they’d be involved,” Ike commented. “We have to protect Kye.”

    “Lotsa luck there, sellsword,” the lead bandit taunted.

    “You shouldn’t have done that!” Ranulf teased in a sing-song voice, noting Ike’s eye twitching. “Azura! Kye needs your help! He was tricked into stealing your pendant and he’s being chased by the bandits responsible!”

    “What?!” Azura’s voice gasped from behind the flaps. “I’ll be out in a second!” And a second it seemed to be. The red-haired mercenary was soon standing on the battlefield, her sword gripped tightly in her hands and ready for battle.

    “Ike! Azura! We’ll hold them off! Escape to town with Kye while you still have a chance!” Bryan insisted. He ordered his troops to form up on the spot, wasting no time at all.

    “Got it. Kye, jump on my back,” Ike told the frightened boy. “Azura, cover me.”

    Kye immediately complied and was soon grasping Ike’s big body as tightly as he could, rightly terrified of what would happen should he let go. Azura took her place beside Ike to make sure none of the bandits could assault him, since even someone as strong as Ike could be slowed down by carrying someone on his back. He immediately began to charge down the path which led away from the campsite, Azura following directly behind.

    “Be careful, Ike!” Elincia called to him as her lover began to vanish in the distance. Some of the bandits instantly took chase, but the remainder of the group challenged the platoon and their newfound allies in order to keep them from aiding Ike and the others. A few here and there managed to nearly get through to strike the hasty defense’s vulnerable flanks, but thanks to her agility, Elincia stopped them dead in their tracks with a number of strikes and slices using Amiti. Ever since the end of the Mad King’s War, Elincia’s swordsmanship improved with each secret lesson she got from Ike, as well as her own training in Castle Crimea. Even the transfer from flying on a Pegasus to fighting on foot was not so difficult for the former queen.

    Ike and Azura swiftly navigated their way through the snake-like path of the mountain trail leading back towards Narcoss. The bandits continued to follow, however, showing no sign of exhaustion or giving up. Ike’s growing concern was only fed more when a number more enemies appeared right before them to block their path forward. The two warriors immediately skidded to a halt, having been startled by the sudden new arrivals. Ike gritted his teeth in frustration as his mind now worked to figure out how to get out of this new obstacle.

    “Blast! We’re trapped!” he growled.

    “There’s no stopping now, Ike. We have to fight back!” Azura insisted.

    “Don’t need to tell me twice! Hang on tight, Kye!”

    The still-frightened younger brother of Skye was not hesitant to comply. Ike drew the slightly worn down axe he’d been using since he first attempted to rescue his sword and began to clash with his foes. Azura swung around behind him, both to battle their pursuers as well as to shield Kye and Ike’s back. By fighting back-to-back, as much as they could without crushing Kye between them at least, they made it impossible for the bandits to get behind them and they could rotate in place to keep their flanks out of the enemies’ reach. When one bandit went down with an arrow lodged in his throat and another followed with a hand axe sticking out of his head, the bandits blocking their progress dispersed in fear as Marc and Skye plowed through their ranks. Ike and Azura, realizing the opportunity, made a break for it, getting ever so closer to Narcoss’s roads.

    “Oh finally! We’re almost there!” Azura exclaimed with relief, spotting the very edge of a main road which ran through the mountain town.

    “Yeah, and it looks like Bryan and the others have things pretty much wrapped up back the other way, so let’s finish this!” Ike insisted. Azura nodded in response, and with that, the two bolted into the road and kept up their pace for as long as they could. The bandits fell far behind once they’d traveled deep into the market. Hoping the rest of the group had taken care of the remaining enemies by now, rendering it safe to leave Kye and return, Ike and Azura finally approached their destination at Ryin’s armory, skidding to a scorching halt in their footsteps to catch their breath. Ike kneeled and allowed Kye to climb off his back, which was now very uncomfortably aching with pain due to all of the running as well as the boy’s weight.

    “Thanks, Ike. You really saved me back there,” Kye commented, breaking the silence.

    “Ha…no…problem,” Ike replied between breaths.

    “I’m sorry for exhausting you too…” Kye added, scratching the back of his head.

    “I’ll…be fine,” Ike assured. “Trust me. I’m used to it.”

    “So am I, actually,” Azura added, finally able to speak instead of pant herself.

    “That’s good. And Azura, I’m really sorry for stealing your pendant,” Kye apologized. “Honest. I wish I could give it back to you right now.”

    “Don’t worry, Kye. It wasn’t your fault,” Azura comforted. “We’ll get it back, somehow.”

    Although she tried hard to convince herself her words were true, Azura knew it was much easier said than done.

    “Yeah, we’ll be here until we find it, that’s for sure,” Ike agreed. “But anyway, we need to head back to the camp. Stay out of trouble now, you hear?”

    “Oh, definitely. Thanks again!” Kye replied, waving good bye as Ike and Azura began their trip back to Bryan’s camp. They only hoped that the battle had already ended in their favor or would end before they arrived. It was guaranteed that after being on the run for so long, the pair, especially Ike, was now far too weary to withstand another tickle assault by Elincia, much less a band of armed ruffians.

  8. #8
    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    Sorry for taking so long with this, I'd been busy lately. But here's chapter 7. :3


    Chapter 7: Lost and Found


    “Har har! We finally got our hands on what we been lookin’ fer!” a deep gruff voice cheered maliciously inside a large tent, located in a woodland area not far from the town of Narcoss. The voice’s owner was a little different from his voice itself, as he was a large man wielding an axe who wore heavily tattered clothes and whose eyes were alight with malice. Anyone who got even so much as a glimpse of him would be able to tell he was one of the bandits.

    “So ya got the girl’s pendant, aye?” came the reply. It was a different voice, the not so deep voice of the original ruffian’s boss.

    “Har har! That we did. It be right in the guard’s keep, safe and sound.”

    “Marvelous. Our buddies up north are gonna love this. And we’re gonna love the payout they got fer us!”

    “Aye, right ye are! With that loot they promised us, we’ll expand ‘till we’ve got Talgria by the throat!”

    “Hehe. They’ll probably end up payin’ more fer this pretty thing than what they originally offered,” the boss guessed. “It’s mighty perdy. We’ll deliver it to our friends tomorrow.”

    “Who’s paying more? Our friends up north or all those sops we tell ‘yer money or yer life’?”

    “Both.”

    “Aye, sir!” the ruffian replied. The boss was about to make his reply when he was cut off by a deep shriek coming from directly outside. The ruffian as well as his boss rushed through the flaps of their tent to find out what the commotion was about. Outside in the wilderness, the sky had been growing ever darker with the overcast night since the battle earlier that day, and it was hard to see with the canopies of the trees enveloping the entire area. The ruffian and boss halted in their tracks to find one of their keep guards looking quite like he’d seen a ghost.

    “Argh, what now?” the boss inquired.

    “Aye, Capn’, someone’s made off with the pendant!” the guard replied.

    “What?!” the boss exclaimed, anger now building up in his mind. “Argh! I’ll bet all my axes it was that runt kid we tricked!”

    “Aye! Would ya have us go look fer ‘im?” the ruffian inquired.

    “In this darkness with no moon to tell us which way be west and which be east? Yer jokin’. We’ll have ta wait ‘til mornin’.”

    “If that’s what ya wish. I’m lookin’ forwerd ta cuttin’ him to pieces!”

    ***


    At some point following the battle, a deep overcast rolled in to blot out the moon and stars and the evening seemed to grow darker by the minute. The camp belonging to Bryan’s soldiers was slowly turning quiet and restful after the battle had ended and the wounded were tended to. Fewer and fewer soldiers were seen wandering around outside as the night wore on. Dinner had ended a couple hours before, consisting of whatever every inhabitant of the camp had brought along with them. There was no one particularly skilled in the art of cooking anywhere within the camp, but what each warrior had seemed to suffice. Well, suffice for almost every warrior. The lone exception was none other than the one famous blue-haired mercenary at the very edge of the camp situated closest to Narcoss.

    “Wow, I wish I’d grabbed a little more to eat while we were still in town,” Ike bemoaned once he and Elincia were concealed within their tent for the night. “I’m still rather hungry.”

    “Hee hee, that’s just the Ike I know and love,” Elincia giggled. “Always in the mood for food.”

    “Aw come on, I’m not always hungry,” Ike replied with a chuckle. “At least not like Ilyana was back home. So anyway, need me to step outside while you change into night clothes?”

    “Yeah, I want to at least be a little comfortable on this ground,” Elincia decided. All the two had to sleep in was the single sleeping bag on the ground. Not that they minded sharing, of course.

    “Good idea. Just holler when you’re done,” Ike replied with a smile. He walked through the flaps of the tent once more into the darkness of the night. Ike stood to the left of the tent’s entrance and focused his gaze on the night sky. The overcast had broken up in places, one of the gaps in the clouds revealing the many glimmering stars. As Ike focused his thoughts on Elincia as well as the silence of the night, he closed his eyes and a happy smile formed on his face. Ashunera, if anything bad were to happen to me tomorrow, the day after, or any other time in the future, please take good care of her, Ike thought to himself, referring to the goddess who watched over the entire world. I love her and I would gladly lay my own life to ensure that she lives hers with happiness. As he finished his thoughts, Ike’s attention went to the tent across from him. Azura must have already gone to sleep, as her tent was dark and completely motionless. Ranulf’s was likewise, save for what sounded like the feline equivalent of snoring.

    Ike began to pace around the front of his own tent a little bit, trying to keep warm and wondering when he could go back inside. He was eager to get his armor off, as it had gotten quite uncomfortable and was feeling rather heavy after the long run to Narcoss. Still, one would never know when they could be ambushed or attacked and it was best to be prepared for anything. That train of thought eventually led to another. Why were the bandits pursuing Azura’s pendant so adamantly? And, for that matter, what was the connection between the pendant and the ruins in the mountains? While the bandits tricking Kye into stealing it was something Ike would expect, he’d never met bandits so persistent. Something big was afoot in Altarais and Ike simply did not know what.

    As he slowly moved about, however, and walked directly in front of the tent’s still closed entrance, Ike found himself beginning to stumble backwards. He plunged back through the flaps back first, but managed to catch himself with his hands right onto the sleeping bag. Elincia gasped in surprise, apparently just getting out of her armor.

    “Ike! You jerk!” she cried with surprise. The former queen had a knee length nightgown in hand and had hugged it to her torso in a vain attempt to cover herself. Pale skin and hints of her undergarments peeked out from where the nightgown crinkled in upon itself. Ike was briefly stunned but then the near-homicidal glare Elincia was fixing upon him registered.

    “Ah! Elincia, I apologize!” Ike replied with embarrassment. “That was an accident, I swear!”

    Mildly panicked, Ike tried to bolt back outside but somehow managed to bang his head against the tent’s upper support frame. He went over backwards, again, and found himself blinking away stars. The ‘stars’ faded to reveal Elincia, clad in her undergarments, a mischievous look on her face as she pinned Ike to the ground with one bare foot.

    “You naughty, naughty hero, you,” she teased, taking delight in Ike’s stupefied expression and then striking a pose. “Like what you see, handsome?”

    If Ike wasn’t already on the ground, the shock of this would’ve knocked him clean off his feet. Elincia’s pale skin, shapely limbs, and delicate feminine curves were readily and delectably visible in her far-less-than-covered state and she suddenly seemed in no hurry to deprive him of the view. The sole burning lantern cast alluring shadows on the far more alluring Elincia and Ike suddenly found it very difficult to breathe. When he remembered that the tent’s flaps were not securely tied and anyone coming to investigate the commotion would be in for quite a sight, he snapped out of it.

    “This is entrapment,” Ike complained, trying not to reveal how big a ‘yes’ was circulating in his thoughts despite the prospect of gawkers. “If I say no, you’ll accuse me of calling you ugly and if I say yes, you’ll accuse me of being a pervert.”

    “Oh, don’t be so paranoid,” Elincia laughed, slipping the nightgown over her head with deliberate slowness. “Besides, I know you’re not like that.”

    “That’s a relief,” Ike replied, trying to figure out whether or not Elincia putting on the nightgown was a good thing. “Still, I am sorry. I was pacing around outside and I stumbled.”

    “Now I know you’re not a rogue. You’re too clumsy,” Elincia teased, and began to laugh afterwards. “I was almost finished anyway.”

    She quickly pulled up her straps and stepped back to allow Ike to rise. He sat himself up completely to reach her level and heaved a sigh of relief that no one barged in.

    “I still goofed, but I’m lucky I didn’t knock the whole tent over,” Ike pointed out. “Then we’d have an even bigger problem.”

    “You can say that again. Are you alright?” Elincia wondered.

    “Yeah. I’d better get this armor off before something else happens.”

    Ike immediately stood back up and undid the straps which attached his pieces of armor to his body. He chucked them in a corner near Elincia’s bag and instantly felt relief.

    “That’s much better,” Ike decided. He moved on to his cape and gauntlets next, which ended up sitting right next to the armor. Ike’s long, slim, and rather tight-looking boots came next and he set them neatly between the cape and the set of armor, followed by the ragged headband around his head.

    “Ike, you’re not sleeping in those clothes, are you?” Elincia inquired.

    “Well, I have to. The bandits who took out the camp Ranulf and I had pitched practically tore everything up. Would you believe when I looked through the huge rip in my bag I found slices of pants with chopped shirt on the side, all of which was garnished in what was left of my sleeping bag? My guess is that they were seeing if I had anything else of value to them.”

    “Ike, I’ve heard the saying men think with their stomachs, but this is ridiculous,” Elincia retaliated with a giggle. Ike sarcastically rolled his eyes.

    “Yeah, well, even if I did have the rest of my clothes, I only partially sleep in them anyway, except when it’s cold, of course.”

    To demonstrate his previous statement, Ike navigated his hands to the sides of his shirt and pulled it over his head. It made its way near his other pieces of equipment like before. Elincia slowly turned her head and blushed at Ike’s new appearance and suddenly found herself wondering if this was retaliation for her forwardness earlier. It’d been a long time since she had last seen him shirtless, and what she was now witnessing was quite a sight. His powerful arms were always exposed due to the sleeveless shirt he usually wore and his torso was built just as powerfully. The rippled muscles of his stomach, wide shoulders, and broad chest matched the domed muscles of Ike’s largely fit arms. He was indeed very handsome and comfortably stretched himself out before noticing Elincia’s gesture.

    “Why, what’s the matter? Never seen a guy without a shirt on before?” Ike joked as he flopped down on one side of the sleeping bag.

    “Seems only fair since you just saw me without a shirt,” Elincia replied, giggling in return. “But to answer your question, yes. Geoffrey, but that was usually when he and I were going for a swim somewhere with Lucia. But you, Ike, you’re much more pleasing to the eyes than he ever was.”

    The tone of her voice had quickly changed to a flirty one when she compared Ike’s figure to Geoffrey’s. She followed Ike’s example and descended to her half of the sleeping bag as she spoke her words, setting herself atop Ike and curling her arms around him.

    “Alright. I get the idea,” Ike replied with a laugh. “Do you expect me to flex now?”

    “Why, that would be lovely,” Elincia continued in her flirty voice.

    “I had to say flex… But you know I’d do anything for you,” Ike replied with a smile and bent his right arm towards himself. His bicep grew nearly twice as high on his arm as it was initially. Elincia reached out one of her own arms and slid her hand across the same muscle, roaming it ever so lovingly.

    “My, how did you ever get so strong?” she wondered with curiosity.

    “Working out with Boyd, of course. And when he’s your work out partner, it’s all worth it,” Ike replied, referring to the former Greil Mercenary closest in age to himself. “He really knows what he’s doing when it comes to that kind of training. Plus, wouldn’t you think I’ve used Ragnell enough times to gain a little muscle?”

    “Yeah, no wonder he looked as bulky as you,” Elincia agreed with another giggle. “You know, remember during the Crimean rebellion, when Lucia was about to be hanged and your mercenaries came to the rescue?”

    “Oh? Of course. It was thanks to Bastian that we made it there in time.”

    Ike began to recall the whole scene of the public execution he and his mercenaries had been hired to prevent. Lucia had been standing on the hangman’s gallows, the noose around her neck and ready to be hanged. She’d been dirty and battered from her capture, and her enemies, but remained loyal to Elincia and defiant to the end. The mastermind behind it all had been Duke Ludveck, who attempted to overthrow Elincia and take the throne for himself. Ike and his mercenaries remained hidden in the underbrush behind the crowd of people that had gathered around the weakened Lucia. He had been waiting for a signal to ambush the soldiers who were also scattered about the area. It came at the right moment, an arrow flying through the sky like a bird in a dive bomb and sliced right through the knot of Lucia’s noose. It was the work of Ike’s archers, Shinon and Rolf, no doubt. Ike, knowing his cue, instantly bolted out onto the scene and rushed through the dirt to catch Lucia in his arms. He held her over his shoulder, drew his blade, Ettard, and downed four enemy soldiers using a single blow. The other mercenaries followed him and battled their way through after Ike put Lucia down for his sister, Mist, and primary healer, Rhys to tend to.

    “Yeah. When I saw you down there giving all of those soldiers a sound thrashing, I thought ‘wow…he’s grown even more handsome…and so strong…” Elincia replied. “I felt like I was looking at a completely different man.”

    “Oh come on. You’re exaggerating,” Ike accused, blushing again.

    “I am not. You’d have made such a great lord if you hadn’t returned to your old life,” Elincia complimented. “But then, if we stayed together and eventually got married, you’d gain more power…”

    “True, though I don’t think that would have been a problem,” Ike commented. “Of course, I still have distaste for the life of nobles, but really, what would a guy like me do with all that power as Prince Consort, much less King?”

    “Why, eat the biggest and most delicious meals he ever had, of course,” Elincia replied in a giggle. Ike went pink in the cheeks again as he tried thinking of a counter statement, which he couldn’t.

    “…Oh, alright, you’ve got me there,” he admitted with a chuckle, knowing that pretty much everyone he knew had knowledge of his big appetite. “Still, it would probably have felt wrong to take the throne that was yours by right.”

    “To be honest,” Elincia replied, her tone morose. “I think you’d have been better suited than I. I think we both know that Ludveck and the others would’ve been...hesitant to rebel with you ready to bash their skulls in. Besides, they found me less-than-intimidating.”

    “You don’t give yourself enough credit,” Ike retorted. “You’re very strong in your own right and heck, who wouldn’t have been shaken watching someone try to hang their best friend? Besides, I’m no politician.”

    “How much politics do you think I learned back in the royal villa?” Elincia countered rhetorically, a nostalgic smile crossing her features. “Well, I believe you would’ve made a fine king. You earn people’s respect rather than just expecting them to respect you, you put others before yourself, and you were always vital to securing durable alliances between beorc and laguz. Who’d be better suited to rule? I also think ‘King Ike’ has a pretty nice ring to it.”

    By this point, Ike’s face was turning several hundred shades of red from this glowing praise. Elincia, her grin turning mischievous once more, leaned in closer.

    “I suspect being Prince Consort would’ve been more to your liking though,” she went on. “Some Prince Consorts and a few Princess Consorts acted as commanders of the army, as a channel of communication between the people and the crown, or as diplomatic representatives to other countries. I think you would’ve excelled in each and all.”

    If Ike wasn’t blushing before, he certainly was now.

    “There might be a few silly hats involved though,” she teased, remembering Ike’s comment about that when he’d first been dubbed a lord, and taking delight in Ike’s feigning terror at the idea.

    “Ugh, don’t remind me,” he replied, his tone turning serious. “I really appreciate what you said though. I’d never wrongly abuse such power. And I would certainly not become another Ashnard.”

    “I’d hope not. Tellius doesn’t need that again, that’s for sure,” Elincia agreed. Mad King Ashnard was the final enemy Ike had defeated in the Mad King’s War as well as Daein’s previous ruler. He had been the one behind the entire war and who, many years before, had undertaken a multitude of covert operations to unlock the secrets of a relic known as Lehran’s Medallion, his plot culminating in starting the conflict.

    “I couldn’t agree more. But well, we’re in Altarais, and far from the Crimean throne, so none of it will ever even happen,” Ike pointed out, a pleasant smile forming on his face.

    “But Ike…” Elincia protested. “Just one question. Why did you leave Melior? I really missed you… And there were times I needed you.”

    Ike had difficulty answering at first. Should he admit that he never thought about the consequences that inevitably took place when he renounced his lordship? It was true he detested the lifestyle of nobles and really would prefer to live as a mercenary, but he knew that letting it overtake his love life was not the answer and so it had not been his intention. After deciding the only choice was to tell the truth, Ike heaved a sigh of nervousness.

    “Elincia,” Ike began, his voice hoarse with emotion. “I’m sorry. Truly sorry. I left because… I thought it was best for you. I thought because of my background and views on their opinions, the nobles would’ve hated me, have rather seen you with Geoffrey, and would’ve rejected the idea of you marrying me instead, no matter what kind of hero I became. What’s more, I thought if I stayed around, Geoffrey would…get competitive, if you know what I mean and I know you would not want us fighting over your heart. It’s ridiculous, I know, and I was stupid to leave. Just plain stupid!”

    “Ike, that is not ridiculous or stupid in any way whatsoever,” Elincia disagreed. “I understand what you were thinking. You loved me enough to prevent that kind of trouble, didn’t you?”

    “I…guess you could say that,” Ike confirmed. “But if I had stayed, we’d have been together and those rumors would have never started. And like you said earlier, maybe we could’ve prevented the rebellion. I shouldn’t have cared what the nobles or Geoffrey thought. What mattered was that we loved one another. Yet I let other things happen which led to my heartbreak when I left Tellius.”

    “Look, you didn’t know anyone was going to spread rumors,” Elincia pointed out. “How can anyone anticipate something like that? It was merely a big misunderstanding and nothing more. No one is to blame. Not you, not me, not Geoffrey. And you just now helped me realize it.”

    “Really?”

    “Yes, Ike. And what matters now is that we still love one another and what the future holds.”

    “That’s exactly what Ranulf has been trying to tell me,” Ike recalled. “Argh! I’m such a blockhead for not listening!”

    “You are not. Stop beating yourself up already,” Elincia demanded. “Let’s think about the future instead. When this is over, where would you want us to live?”

    “I’m not really sure yet, to be honest,” Ike admitted. “I mean, at first I just came here to get away from...the memories. Altarais does have its charms though, or would you like to go back to Tellius?”

    “I’m not sure either,” Elincia admitted. “It would be good to see my uncle, Lucia and the others again. And, I’m sure you’d like to see Mist and the Greil Mercenaries too. At the very least, we should let them know we’re alright and together. Though, as to where we’ll stay, this is a new continent.”

    “Ah, the lure of the unknown,” Ike proclaimed, his melodrama eliciting a giggle from Elincia. “Well, Galden and Narcoss are lovely towns and who knows what other places we’ll find. Still, if you want to go back to Tellius, I’ll go with you.”

    Elincia’s smile broadened and she nuzzled closer to him.

    “As much as I’d like the chance to prove what I said earlier about you being a great king, I doubt I’ll try to become Queen again,” Elincia pointed out. “In fact, I’d be surprised if nullifying my abdication is even possible and my uncle is a far better statesman then I’ll ever be. Besides, I don’t want my royal blood to come between us again.”

    “You’ll always be my fair princess,” Ike replied, enjoying the blush he’d caused on Elincia’s face.

    “That settles it. You are a rogue, a clumsy rogue, but a rogue nonetheless,” Elincia teased. “Still, it seems we have a lot to think about.”

    “Yeah, too much to mull over in one night,” Ike agreed. “Besides, we’ve got bigger issues to focus on, so that talk can wait.”

    “Yeah, I suppose…”

    “By the way, are you sure we can both fit in one sleeping bag?” Ike inquired. “I’m really thinking we should just go ask Bryan if he’s got a spare somewhere.”

    “Oh don’t be so inflexible,” Elincia protested. “We’ll be fine. Besides, he’s probably asleep by now.”

    “I guess.”

    On that note, the couple crawled into the sleeping bag while at the same time ensuring that they’d be comfortable. Ultimately, the two found themselves squished together like peas in a pod as a result. Elincia simply giggled with happiness once more.

    “I take it that means you’re comfortable after all?” Ike inferred.

    “Yep,” Elincia confirmed. “In fact, I’m glad we only have one sleeping bag. Hee hee.”

    Ike jokingly rolled his eyes, but wrapped an arm around Elincia’s waistline and cuddled with her all the same. Elincia responded by allowing her hand to glide across his chest and then towards his lower torso. Her head leaned upon Ike’s shoulder comfortably as a smile formed on her face. Ike’s gaze eventually had been fixed upon Elincia, who eventually returned it seconds later, unable to take her golden eyes off of him. He let his right hand slide through her long emerald-colored hair.

    “You know…you’re more beautiful than I originally thought,” Ike complimented with a soft smile. Elincia’s cheeks instantly went pink upon hearing his words. She responded by giving Ike a loving peck on the cheek. He had been a little startled, but quite pleased.

    “And you’re the biggest sweetheart I’ve ever met,” Elincia replied. “Literally.”

    With that, she let out another giggle, having referred to how big the tall and broad shouldered Ike was compared to most other men, beorc or laguz. He really had grown a lot in the time between the Mad King’s War and the war against Ashera. When Elincia had first met Ike, she could stand on the tip of her toes and be about his height. He had been rather scrawny for someone his age as well, and once three years went by, he’d grown several inches in height and gained the muscular, bulky figure he currently had.

    “Haha, actually, you’re probably right about that one. You really like to surprise me, don’t you?” Ike wondered with a smile.

    “Hee hee.”

    “Well then, allow me to return the favor.”

    After he’d smiled at his words, Ike grabbed Elincia by the waist and pulled her over top of him. His lips met her own within seconds and the two were embraced for moments and moments on in. Elincia had indeed been taken by surprise, but relished the feeling of being pressed against Ike’s muscles all the same. With her arms slipped around Ike’s neck and his around her waist, life felt perfect that entire evening for both, no doubt. Despite Ike’s earlier words, thoughts about what would happen in the future crept back into his head. While there was no telling what would happen once this quest had ended, tantalizing possibilities made themselves known. Questions still rung through Ike’s mind, but what little he could see was precious. Curious and yet content, he lavished Elincia’s face, neck, and collarbone with kisses while his hands roamed beneath her nightgown.

    “That does it, you are a clumsy rogue,” Elincia remarked as she felt Ike’s hands make daring amounts of contact with her breasts. “And, rogues must be punished.”

    “I’m shaking in fear,” Ike retorted sarcastically, a punchy smile on his face. So saying, Elincia shoved back against Ike and kissed him. Her tongue slid into his mouth, probing him relentlessly, while her hands dragged across his chest and back. Exhilarated, revitalized, happy and mildly suffocating, Ike could only retaliate in joy.

    When the sun began to peak over the horizon, breaking the next morning’s dawn, the camp’s silence carried on. It was still quite early, with just about every living soul still fast asleep. Ike and Elincia were cuddled together, with Ike’s arm around the former queen’s waist, and both were out like a candle upon their sides. Ranulf was still in a cat nap under his own blankets and drooling on his pillow while everyone else’s quarters were either completely silent or had the sounds of snoring and moving blankets coming from inside. Azura became the first to stir as she rolled over onto her side facing the tent’s tied flaps, and her eyelids fluttered open. Despite her vision being blurred by sleep, Azura could clearly make out her armor near one wall of the tent and the flaps which she’d tied shut. Then, as her vision of the inside became clearer, Azura spotted a round black tiny creature crawling by her blanket on eight legs. Her lingering fatigue forgotten and her eyes very nearly popping out of her head, she let out a terrified shriek, which roused half the camp.

    “Oh, what is she screaming for now…?” Ike wondered with annoyance. Azura screaming once had been quite enough. Elincia shrugged, as she was unsure of the reason herself.

    “She really is a mystery, isn’t she?”

    “Tell me about it,” Ike replied as he lazily crawled out of the sleeping bag, let out a big yawn, and came through the flaps of his own tent while sprawled on his knees. He noticed Ranulf had done the same in his tent next to Azura’s and turned his attention to Ike first.

    “Oh, morning, Ike. Got any idea what’s freaking her out this time?” Ranulf wondered, yawning himself.

    “That’s what I’m out here to find out,” Ike replied and turned to face the tent across from him. “Azura, what’s the big idea waking us up like this?”
    “K-Kill it! Kill it!” Azura cried in fright from behind her flaps.

    “Kill what?” Ike inquired in complaint as he stood to his feet and went to investigate. Ranulf followed him as the two stepped inside Azura’s tent once more. The tiny black eight-legged creature was still crawling around in the grassy ground. Azura was trembling in the back of her tent while curled up in a ball and continuously pointed to the creature.

    “Are you serious?” Ranulf said in annoyance and folded his arms. “This is what you’re screaming at?”

    “Yeah, Azura, it’s just a spider,” Ike pointed out, squishing the arachnid with his foot.

    “S-Sorry. Spiders sc-scare me. Anything with eight legs f-f-frightens me,” Azura stammered and got up from her position. “I don’t know why…”
    “Well, calm down, it’s dead now. Since we’re all awake, we may as well get suited up and ready to start looking for your pendant,” Ike suggested.
    “Good idea. …Wow, Ike. Elincia is sure lucky to have a man as handsome as you are…” Azura complimented, taking note of Ike’s shirtless muscular torso combined with the rest of his features. Ike went pink in the cheeks before responding.

    “Heh, why thank you,” Ike replied with a smile, trying to hide his embarrassment. “Anyway, don’t take too long. If we delay anymore, those crooks will be long gone by the time we find any clues.”

    Azura nodded and began readying herself immediately as soon as Ike and Ranulf had departed. Within minutes, she strapped on her armor, pulled on her boots, and buckled her belt. Once she was completely ready, Azura thought it best to see if Bryan and the others had awoken yet. Stepping outside of the tent, she peered around to see who she’d find to be ready. Ranulf was standing right outside of his own tent while Elincia had just at that moment emerged from hers. Marc and Morris followed a minute later. Ike, Bryan, Skye, and Leona were last, not necessarily in that order.

    “Ah, Bryan. Glad to see you and the others woke up and are set to go,” Ike greeted the captain. “Would you mind if we split up in town? We’d be covering more ground, plus I need to get my sword.”

    “Not at all,” Bryan replied. “In fact, I had the same idea. Anyway, I say we split into pairs or trios. Does that sound good?”

    “Fair enough. How about myself and Ranulf, you, Morris, and Skye, Marc and Leona, and Azura and Elincia?” Ike suggested.

    “Funny, I thought you’d want to go with Elincia,” a female voice behind them replied with a chuckle before Bryan could make his statement. Azura had approached them, having overheard their conversation.

    “You can’t let love distract your battle strategies, Azura. Besides, you and Elincia have the most similar fighting style to one another’s,” Ike pointed out, trying hard not to chuckle himself. “If the two of you run into bandits, it’ll prove handy. Plus, it’d give her a chance to get to know you better.”

    “Ah, good point,” Azura agreed. “You’re alright with this idea, aren’t you, Bryan?”

    “I don’t see why not,” Bryan replied. “I’ll inform the others while the rest of you go on ahead. We’ll regroup on the path we first came to town by.”
    “Fair enough, but hang on a sec, Bryan,” Ike countered. “I’ve got another idea.”

    “Oh? What would that be?” Bryan wondered.

    “Maybe we should have Kye help us,” Ike suggested. “After all, he was at a nearby bandit stronghold. If he remembers where it is, he can give us directions. And, even if the bandits have packed up and left, they’ll be easy enough to track if we know where to start.”

    “True, but I’d really prefer not to put him in harm’s way again,” Bryan replied. “He’s got excellent thievery skills and all, but don’t forget the bandits are already quite enraged with all of us, not just Kye. And Skye would murder me if I let something bad happen to him.”

    “I realize this, but Kye may be our only hope,” Ike reasoned. “He’s the only one we know who has any idea where we can find the pendant and if we give the bandits any opportunity to escape elsewhere, it could be days before we track them down again.”

    “I hate to admit it, but you have a point,” Bryan conceded. “We’ll go with this plan. But mark my words, if that boy gets hurt at all, we will regret this.”

    “Then we’ll be sure to guard him at all times,” Ike promised. “Let’s go.”

    After Bryan departed for the other tents and Azura joined Elincia, Ike motioned Ranulf to follow him and the two began to make their way into Narcoss once again. Azura filled Elincia in on the plan she, Ike, and Bryan agreed upon and the two made for town in the very same direction. Deciding not to trek too far away from Ike and Ranulf, Azura and Elincia began their search on a nearby road as the men were backtracking to Ryin’s armory. Although it took some time to navigate through the crowds in the already bustling Narcoss, Ike and Ranulf approached the heavily-smelling-of-metal building in good time. The two entered, careful not to make much noise due to how early in the morning it was, as the sun wasn’t much higher than the horizon at the moment and unlike the early risers elsewhere in Narcoss, the locals in this area still seemed to be asleep. Fortunately for the pair, both Ryin and Kye stood at the back of the room and took note of them right away.

    “Ah, Ike! I was hoping you’d come by soon. Your sword is ready to go,” Ryin reported with a smile.

    “Great! Where is it?” Ike wondered, approaching him.

    “Right here in front of me. Doesn’t she look mighty fine?” Ryin replied. “Seeing as the original was called Ettard according to you, I call this new blade Ettardios! A more powerful sounding name for a more powerful sword, no?”

    Ike took a look at the sword lying on the table between himself and Ryin. The blade itself was almost identical to that of the original Ettard, only slightly a different shape and curving serrations had been added to make it all the more lethal. The grip was also nearly the same as before. It was the guard that had been mostly changed. Instead of the plainness it had before, its colors screamed difference and it took a more vibrant shape. Spikes radiated out from the upper side of the cross guard, which had been colored like a darkened red delicious apple. The lower half curved slightly downward in its not so dark brown tone. The simple pommel at the bottom of the hilt had been replaced by a deep blue gemstone that gleamed in the sunlight. Ike let his hand slide across the re-forged blade.

    “Heh, Ettardios, eh?” he commented. “I have to agree with you there. This sword feels like it could rival the strength of a silver blade.”

    “Yeah, no doubt!” Ranulf seconded. “You could probably take out a hundred guys without breaking a sweat if you used this, Ike! Heck, with those serrations, you could cut them and gut them all in one thrust.”

    “Aye, you just might, actually!” Ryin confirmed. “I used finest silver I had to coat what remained of the original blade’s melted steel, which hadn’t been enough for a full blade anyway. As your friend pointed out, the serrations will make it come in handy when you’re fighting to the death. Essentially, Ettardios is Ettard, a silver blade, and a killing edge all rolled into one. This new blade is also much more durable.”

    “Seriously? Thanks!” Ike replied, greatly impressed. “I really want to pay you for a job well-done, but if you insist on it being free, I won’t argue.”

    “Nah, you go ahead and take it. You’re Ike and you’re with Bryan. It’s my treat.”

    “Well, thank you once again, then.”

    Once Ike said his words, he took the sword from the table, slugged it across his back, and made his way through the front door once more. Before he and Ranulf could begin their search for Azura’s pendant and the thieves, however, a familiar voice hollered from behind them on the road. Ike and Ranulf halted in their footsteps and turned around to see Kye racing towards them at blinding speed. This time, excitement lined his facial features.

    “Ike! Wait up!” the boy called.

    “Kye? What’s the matter?” Ike wondered.

    “Hey, if you’re going to look for Azura’s pendant, you don’t have to. I have it right here!” Kye replied with a smile. He then reached into his right pocket and produced the sought after gold pendant on the spot. Ike and Ranulf both gasped, feelings of shock running through their bodies.

    “What?! But you said—” Ranulf began, but was cut off.

    “I know, but listen. I stole it back from those stupid heads overnight for you to save your group trouble,” Kye explained. “It wasn’t risky since they never expected me to run to their camp. In fact it was quite easy to nab it from them and I wanted to make up for my huge mistake.”

    “Well, I…don’t know what to say,” Ike replied, still surprised. “Great job though, Kye. It definitely will save us a lot of time and trouble, you can count on that.”

    He took the pendant from Kye’s hand, relieved as ever that the entire group could start for Eraghoa right away.

    “You should escape town as quickly as possible though,” Kye warned. “Those guys are sure to be looking for me again, since they must know it’s missing by now. I’ve been hiding here the whole time, since I knew you’d come.”

    “Yeah, I don’t doubt—” It was Ike’s turn to have his sentence interrupted.

    “Ike, we need to get out of here!” a female voice rung out from down the road. Ike turned his attention to where it was coming from. Elincia was running at full speed, followed by Azura, in the direction of the blue-haired mercenary and Ranulf. Their facial expressions were contorted with alarm.

    “Huh? Elincia, Azura, slow down. What’s going on?” Ike wondered.

    “There’s an enormous crew of bandits heading straight for town!” Azura reported.

    “What?! How many?”

    “Dozens of them, that’s for sure. Bryan and his men are trying to hold them off, but there’s no telling how long that will last,” Azura continued. “We need to escape and lose them on the mountain trail as fast as possible!”

    “Alright, then let’s move. Kye, you stay hidden here. Go to the very back if you have to,” Ike told the boy. “We’ll handle this.”

    “Alright. Just hurry and be careful!” Kye warned and bolted back inside the building. The group heeded the boy’s warning and instantly made for the outskirts of town, hoping they could avoid being seen by any bandits that may escape Bryan’s assault. Though Ike wanted to let Azura know of Kye’s brave deed, he knew it was best to play it safe in case the bandits were capable of using spies. He also figured it was a good idea to give the bandits a taste of their own medicine and fool them into thinking the pendant was still missing by not giving it back to Azura for the moment. The group could only hope that Bryan could stall them long enough to enable his companions to escape safely.

  9. #9
    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    Chapter 8 ho!


    Chapter 8: Onward and Northward


    Ike, Azura, and Elincia immediately raced down the road, hoping to escape before any bandits could find them. They also knew they had to get as far away from Ryin’s place as possible so the enemy wasn’t drawn to Kye’s location. And, of course, the group was worried about Bryan’s men. If the bandits were attacking in the numbers they feared, the platoon would be outnumbered and, worse, there’d be no chance to accommodate the wounded during this frantic escape. To say nothing of the bandits massacring the townsfolk as they did back in Galden.

    With the grim and decidedly un-reassuring conclusion that they were doing the only thing they could, the group offered a vain hope that the platoon might be able to stall the bandits enough for them to escape to safety and then regroup as originally planned. However, the trio found it to be more difficult than anticipated due to the fact that none of them knew their way around Narcoss’s numerous roads which would surely be overrun with panicked townsfolk soon enough. Fortunately, the group ran into Marc and Leona along the way and motioned them to follow. The two knights were not hesitant to agree.

    “Hey! This way!” Ike motioned, finally spotting what looked like the edge of town. The others followed immediately and soon they found themselves traveling on the mountain trail. It was the very same path they had come to town by. Ike could tell by the position of the sun in relation to the road and the sign reading ‘You are now departing Narcoss, come back soon’ was also helpful. Relieved, but far from safe, the group slowed their pace to make it easier for Bryan and the others to catch up when, or if, they repelled the bandits. Azura, as they trekked farther and farther away from town, grew reluctant to go any further.

    “Ike, I think we should stop now,” she voiced. “I don’t want us to risk getting lost. Bryan seems to be the only one who knows his way around this entire area.”

    “…Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” Ike agreed, halting his footsteps. “I hope he makes it back here soon. I suggest we take defensive positions in case we get unwanted visitors.”

    Inwardly, Ike was grimly calculating the odds. Rolling his eyes at that Soren-like train of thought, he found ‘grim’ to be the right word for it. If the bandits came at them in force, or if Bryan and his platoon were routed, they’d lose their only real guide in this unfamiliar landscape. And, for how long after that they’d keep their lives was anybody’s guess.

    “Agreed. Bandits could find us any minute,” Azura pointed out, snapping Ike back to attention. “We’re already taking that risk as it is.”

    “Exactly,” Ike confirmed. “Marc, Leona, did either of you happen to notice where Bryan and his group were headed?”

    “As a matter of fact, we did,” Marc replied. “Well, sort of anyway. Bryan, Skye, and Morris were headed in the opposite direction you were, so they were probably on the opposite end of town. The other troops had gone elsewhere. Never saw much of them.”

    “That isn’t true. I saw plenty of Bryan’s men. You didn’t notice them at all?” Leona protested.

    “I…guess I didn’t. Blast.” Marc had closed his eyes in embarrassment upon saying his words.

    “Sigh… That’s just like you, Marc. You really need to pay more attention to your surroundings,” Leona lectured with her hands on her hips.

    “Well, thanks, both of you,” Ike replied. “You know, you two sound like you’ve worked together a lot.”

    “Oh we definitely have,” Leona confirmed. “In fact, almost since we both were starting out, General Leyon has stuck me with Sir Lacksalot here as his babysitter.”

    “What?! I resent that! I don’t need any babysitter!” Marc retorted. “I could do just fine on my own! In fact, I already did when Elincia and Ranulf ran into me near Galden and I saw they needed help. I think they asked me something about the whereabouts of Ike and Lady Azura.”

    Upon hearing herself being referred to as ‘lady’ again, Azura felt strange and her cheeks went pink once more, but she wasn’t given a chance to say anything.

    “No, I was able to see you from my post down on the road below that one, you idiot. If you can handle something by yourself, then why does the General always stick us together while the rest of the knights have the option of going on their own?”

    “Haha, I think the reason for that is quite obvious,” Azura replied with a chuckle, forgetting her thoughts from before. “From the way you both bicker so much, I’d say you make the perfect pair. Leyon probably thinks the same.”

    “Yeah, you really seem to care for each other,” Ike added with a smile, glad for the distraction from their dire predicament.

    “…You both must be crazy!” Marc and Leona shouted at the same time. The loudness of their voices somewhat scorched Ike and Azura’s ears, but both were secretly laughing in their heads. Elincia was brought into a giggle while Ranulf rolled his eyes. His maneuver led him to spot a pair of familiar figures racing towards the group in the distance, with concerned expressions on their faces. Skye, followed by Morris, were hurrying to rejoin their comrades ahead. Ranulf turned around in hopes to get the others’ attention.

    “Hey, can you all take a minute to quit clowning around and look this way?” he asked out of slight annoyance. Ranulf pointed in the direction heading back to town. Azura and the others turned their attention to where the laguz was pointing to see the rest of their group rejoining them, save for Bryan. Skye was the first to speak.

    “Oh, good. I’m glad we could catch up with you guys,” he gasped out, exhausted. “Morris and I thought you might have been further ahead.”

    “Yeah, especially considering the number of bandits stalking the place now,” Morris added. “I swear, there has to be two or three score of them.”

    “I don’t blame you,” Ike agreed, not liking those numbers or the odds that came with them. “Where’s Bryan?”

    “Yeah, he’s the one we need most right now,” Azura pointed out.

    “I’m not sure exactly. All he told us to do was to let you know he’s making a stand against the bandits while elements of the platoon try to escort the townsfolk to safety and then catch up with us. He said he wanted us to help if any bandits found their way here,” Skye explained.

    “What he said,” Morris replied. “But the captain is sure focused back there. He seems almost different than usual and our platoon wasn’t even originally meant to be helping Azura.”

    “Hmm…” Ike murmured contemplatively a few seconds later. “He does seem quite eager to help her, doesn’t he?”

    “Bless his heart…” Azura commented, closing her eyes in awe. “I’ve never met any soldier who wanted to help me that much when he didn’t even have to.”

    “Yeah, but I don’t wish to stand around here worrying my butt off,” Ike replied, his usual blunt tone showing. “Bryan is a lancer up against fifty odd axe wielders. He needs help, and I’m going to find him.”

    “But Ike, what should we do? We’re not a large group ourselves and who knows how many of those madmen could go after us,” Azura protested.

    “I know. That’s why I want to make this trip as quick as possible,” Ike called back as he departed. “In the mean time, stay as well hidden as you can!”

    Azura sighed as she watched Ike disappear down the road and back into town in a run, his messy blue hair rippling in the wind. While she was pretty sure Bryan had his reasons to want to help as much as he did, could Ike have been right in going to find him and telling the rest of the group to hide? A lance against a lot of axes was definitely a foolhardy battle to pursue on Bryan’s part, plus the Halberdier had already done much to help them by diverting his platoon to assist them, offering his aid, and providing Ike a means to re-forge his sword. Deciding to let it go for the time being, Azura motioned the group to follow her along the path somewhat further from town, but higher up where they would not as easily be seen and have the advantage of the high ground if they were pursued, but still be able to spot Ike and Bryan when they returned.

    As they traveled, Azura turned her wandering gaze over to Marc, who was obediently following with the rest of the group. Still wondering why he called her ‘lady,’ Azura decided to bring the subject up before she forgot once more. She wasn’t anything more than a mercenary, so being called a Lady still felt strange. It was flattering, but strange. Azura heaved a sigh before finally speaking the question.

    “Hey Marc, by the way…” she began. “Why do you call me Lady? Not that it offends me or anything, it’s just that there’s really no need. I’m just an ordinary mercenary.”

    “While that’s true, Leona and I both refer to you as Lady Azura because we are here to serve you,” Marc replied with a pleasant smile. “Ever since we ran into your group the other day, we’ve both felt that we should stick around and help.”

    “He’s right,” Leona added with her own smile. “As long as we’re around, we’ve got your back. You can count on it.”

    “For Bryan, Morris and I are with you too,” Skye put in. “He’s been a close friend for quite some time. If he feels he needs to focus on you, then we’re with him and you all the way.”

    “Yeah, and besides that, I find it pleasing to help damsels in distress, haha,” Morris added.

    “Oh…thank you all,” Azura replied, her eyes closing again with happiness. “I won’t ever forget this.”

    “Glad to hear it. We’re not only your allies, but also your friends,” Marc assured. “And friends look out for one another.”

    “Indeed, they do. Thank you, Marc,” Azura replied with a smile. Marc simply nodded once, returning the smile as the group finally made their halt atop a high cliff that overlooked part of Narcoss. Skye, Marc and Leona took positions to rain projectiles on any would be attackers while Morris, Ranulf, Azure and Elincia formed a defensive line at the path leading down to greet any attackers lucky enough, and foolish enough, to make it to the top. Azura was certain the area was defensible and safe, and continued to hope that Ike and Bryan were no less protected back in the besieged town.

    Ike himself, meanwhile, had retraced his steps back to Ryin’s armory and then began in the direction Elincia and Azura had come from when they regrouped earlier before. It was the only clue he had to Bryan’s whereabouts and hoped the Halberdier wasn’t far off this trail. The bandits must’ve been retaliating for the theft of the pendant and, judging by the smoke plumes and the screams, they wanted Ike and company to pay for their good fortune. As Ike kept making his way through the market, or what was left of it, he glanced every which way for Bryan’s bright green and gold armor, but never spotted it. The only activity seen was the surrounding people racing about, panicked, skidding to a stupefied halt at the sight of him. Despite the bandit attack and several dozen houses going up in flames, they stared at the mercenary with curiosity in their expressions. Assuming it was because of whom they were witnessing wandering through their town’s roads, Ike simply ignored them and continued out of the market on the off chance that his departure might induce them to concentrate on saving their own lives. Blast, Bryan! Where are you?! He thought to himself desperately.

    Little more time had passed when Ike finally reached what seemed to be one edge of town. He chose to circle the nearby market so as not to get lost amidst the smoke or trampled by the throngs of panicked townsfolk and prayed Bryan wasn’t far away. Just as Ike was almost frantically searching a road located two blocks away from the nearest market buildings, he could have sworn he spotted a figure wearing green armor just like Bryan’s. As he did a double take, Ike realized that his mind had not been playing visual tricks on him, nor had the smoke. Bryan was really there, collapsed on one knee, indicating he had somehow been injured. He tightly clutched his right leg with red-stained gloved hands, confirming Ike’s supposition. Ike instantly bolted over to the helpless Halberdier, noticing upon closer inspection that Bryan had been struck on the inside of his leg. A huge open gash running from upper thigh to knee was pouring blood onto the ground, staining the rock a dirty red.

    “Bryan?! …Blast! I knew I’d find you like this,” Ike gasped with concern. “Are you nuts?! Look what they did to you!”

    “Ike…what are you doing here?” Bryan asked, grimacing at the pain of his leg. “Where are the others?”

    “Hiding. I came to find you because you’re apparently crazy enough to go fighting axe wielding bandits with a lance.”

    “I wasn’t alone…” Bryan protested. “After I sent Skye and Morris off, I joined some of my other soldiers. …Augh!”

    “Well apparently, that wasn’t enough. Look at yourself. You need a vulnerary right now.”

    “No… I must fight to the end…for Azura and the people here. I’ll be fine…errg…”

    “And what’s with you? The townsfolk I get, but what’s so important about helping her? Not that there’s anything wrong with it, you’re just getting reckless!”

    “Okay… I’ll admit to that, but before I tell you…I need to go somewhere.”

    “Yeah, to a healer.”

    “No! Listen to me, Ike. Did you happen to pass by a shop…that had brick walls and a bright red roof?” Bryan inquired.

    “Erm…I think so. But I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings. I was kinda busy looking for you and trying not to get trampled,” Ike replied testily. “What do you need to go there for?”

    “I’ll explain that too if you help me over there. I can’t walk on my leg…” Bryan gasped through grit teeth, grimacing towards his bloody leg.

    “Promise me you’ll heal up immediately after.”

    “Of course. Let’s just go.”

    “Sigh… I hope this is worth it.”

    With that, Ike took Bryan’s arm and swung it over his shoulder, hoisting the injured Halberdier to his feet and helping him travel back down the road to the market. Although Bryan’s armor added a lot to his total weight, Ike’s fabled strength was quite real and the distance was short. It was only minutes before the two were back in the market section of town, most of the panicked townsfolk now gone, and beginning to pass by several shops and inns. Both Ike and Bryan kept their eyes open for the shop mentioned beforehand as they went, Bryan more desperately than Ike. Wondering what was so important about the place, Ike moved as quickly and efficiently as possible.

    “These bandits are cut from the same cloth as the ones back in Galden,” Bryan spoke up. “Tough, sneaky and playing dirty. They figured we’d try to help the townsfolk so they started setting houses on fire to lure you and the others back here.”

    “I would’ve fallen for it,” Ike admitted. “How many casualties?”

    “I don’t know,” Bryan admitted. “It’s kinda hard to do a head count when everyone’s running around like chickens with their heads cut off. If I know these bandits though, yeah, they killed more people to make sure they had the bait they needed.”

    Ike felt his heart clench with anger, but fought down the sentiment. If there were as many bandits here as Elincia and Morris had said, then staying to fight would be suicide. All they could do was find what Bryan was after and run fast.

    “I had my platoon try to evacuate the people to Fort Absolon,” Bryan added. “It’s near the blocked pass to Aracion. Still, with everybody so panicked, who knows how many actually made it.”

    “They’ll pay for this,” Ike reassured, an edge creeping into his tone. “It might not be today, or tomorrow, but it’ll happen.”

    When they neared the end of the first road they went down after entering the market, a shop that matched the description Bryan had given Ike appeared before the traveling pair. However, the Halberdier’s facial expression contorted in worry as he stared, bemused and alarmed, at the building. The windows were boarded up, the door was locked up tight with planks of wood nailed across it, and the place appeared to have been generally deserted for some time, as if no one had gone there in weeks. Bryan simply stared, unable to produce any words. Ike broke the silence seconds later, still curious about what he was up to.

    “Well, this looks like the place you wanted,” he observed. “What now?”

    “I…I don’t believe this,” Bryan replied, finally managing a sentence, but speaking more to himself than to Ike. “Father’s shop…closed down?”

    “This shop is your father’s?”

    “Yeah, or it was, apparently. I don’t know what’s happened…”

    “I see. I don’t think we can do anything here, so let’s heal you up and rejoin the others.”

    “No! I need to get some answers. I was planning on asking my father’s help with Azura’s situation.”

    “What would he be able to do?”

    “I’ll show you if we can get inside.”

    Ike sighed before answering, as he wasn’t intending to waste time exploring shops on his mission. He had also recalled what had happened to him after he received blows to the neck and head during his battle with the Arius in Tellius. Even after Ike had awakened from being unconscious and miraculously survived, he still remained weak for hours. He was not going to let another individual suffer the same fate.

    “Fine…” After leading Bryan to the door, Ike faced the boarded up entrance and drew Ettardios, hoping the blade would be sharp enough to penetrate the wood. Much to the mercenary’s pleasure, as well as surprise, the sword cut through so easily, it was as if the door were as thin as parchment. Bryan had also put a look of shock on his face.

    “…Whoa. That has to be Ryin’s best work yet,” he blurted, wide eyed and impressed. “I’ve never seen a blade cut through wood so smoothly!”

    “You’re telling me,” Ike replied as he broke down the door. “So what were you going to show me?”

    “Look around you, Ike,” Bryan told him. The two warriors then explored their surroundings, taking note of the empty shelves and display cases situated at every corner of the shop. Cobwebs lined the vacant areas while dust piled up in every nook and cranny possible. What looked like the shopkeeper’s counter stood near the left wall. There was no sign of life at all, rendering the place seemingly long abandoned. As a result, Ike wondered what exactly he was supposed to be looking at.

    “Okay. What’s important about a deserted shop with no merchandise left?” Ike wondered.

    “Think about it. Wouldn’t this mean that my father had a lot of business?” Bryan suggested. “He couldn’t possibly carry all the things he had.”
    “Good point. I take it he had valuable items on sale?”

    “He sure did. I was never positive how, but my father was always able to stock rare and valuable weapons and items and for good prices. What I do know is that most of the normal weapons came from Ryin’s place.”

    “I see. If that’s so, why would he need to close the shop?”

    “That’s what I’d like to know. This happened well before the bandits came here, the dust tells us that much. But I bet the answer is in the back room.”

    “Back room?” Ike repeated, puzzled. “I don’t see any door back there.”

    It was true. Nothing but more merchandise shelves and display cases sat in the back of the shop.

    “That’s because it was a secret room only I and my father knew about. We kept all our family heirlooms and treasures in there,” Bryan explained as he balanced himself upon the shelves nearby to reach the one sitting in back. Ike followed, but did not forget about the Halberdier’s injury.

    “Hey, you promised you’d heal up if I brought you here,” he reminded Bryan. “Can you please do it before I get a migraine?”

    “Fine…” Bryan agreed and reached into the supplies he carried. “Oh wait… Blast. I just remembered I recently used up the last vulnerary I had.”

    Ike didn’t respond, but instead slapped his face with in annoyance.

    “Sorry…” Bryan continued. “But my father also kept extra healing medicines in the back room for emergencies.”

    “You are very lucky of that,” Ike replied, still rather miffed. “Otherwise, I’d be shoving my last bit of vulnerary on you right now.”

    “I know… Anyway, that shelf there, to the left,” Bryan replied and pointed where he was referring to. “You could use those big muscles of yours to push it aside, can’t you? I’d help, but my leg renders me useless, I’m afraid.”

    “I’ll try.”

    With that, Ike took hold of the shelf by the right and pushed with all his strength. Luckily for him, he was strong enough to budge it a few feet to the left. What was revealed still did not impress Ike.

    “This…doesn’t look like any door I’ve ever seen,” he said, looking at a plain wooden wall.

    “Exactly. It isn’t supposed to look like a door,” Bryan replied. “It’s designed to blend in to the rest of the wall so you can’t see it when it’s closed. That way, if anyone moved this shelf, they still wouldn’t suspect anything. Watch this.”

    As Ike stood there waiting, Bryan hauled himself in front of the wooden wall and produced a silver key from his belongings. After opening a hidden panel on the wall, Bryan pushed the key into the revealed keyhole and turned until a small clicking sound was heard. Once he motioned Ike to help him push the concealed door open, the two hauled it forward, revealing a small room lit only by several candles situated on every side. Unlike the rest of the building, this room was in cleaner condition. Many antique-looking objects sat on small shelves, some boxes, some actual items. A small table sat in the back of the room. The first thing Bryan set his eyes on what looked like a long wooden stick with a sharpened end sitting near the table.

    “Oh, can this be…?” he said. “My old wooden lance. Ever since I was a boy, I dreamed of being a great lancer. I’m just surprised my father didn’t take any of these things with him.”

    “I have to agree. Why would he leave such valuables behind?” Ike wondered.

    “Yeah, there must be some—wait, what’s this?” Bryan replied, spotting something on the little table. It was a piece of folded parchment with the letters of Bryan’s name written on it in fading ink. Bryan unfolded it to see what it was, hoping it was not bad news.

    “Hm?” Ike said.

    “Just as I thought. It’s a letter from my father,” Bryan revealed as he began to read. In the very same ink as before, the letter read:

    Bryan, my son,

    I’m sorry to suddenly disappear like this, but with the Red Claw on the loose in Talgria, I needed to flee with my remaining merchandise. Due to this, I’ve made the shop appear to be permanently closed down. I wanted to wait for you to visit again, but I could not buy anymore time. Still, I figured you would come back to this room anyway, and left you a message. I’m leaving in your care everything in here, plus a weapon that you may find useful. I got it the same way I do all my valuable merchandise, but I felt it was best to save this one for you when the time was right. You’ll find it in the back of the closet. Take good care of it as well as yourself. And don’t worry about me, fight for your country. I will be fine.

    “Oh…Father…” Bryan commented with a sniffle once he was finished. “I’m glad you escaped in time…”

    “Red Claw?” Ike wondered in confusion.

    “Probably what the bandits call themselves,” Bryan guessed. “But that weapon my father said he left…”

    He quickly hauled himself to the closet door on the right wall and barged inside. Ike followed to see what could cause such an excitement to erupt in the Halberdier’s mind. As Bryan made his way to the back of the average-sized closet, his eyes gasped at the valuable weapon that stood up against the wall before him. He was speechless for several seconds.

    “Can it be…?” Bryan finally said. “A B-B-Brave Lance?”

    “Wow. Your father is good. I only know one other person who has one of those,” Ike replied, recalling Geoffrey’s Brave Lance.

    “I’m not surprised. Brave weapons are among the rarest you can find,” Bryan said, taking the lance in his hand. “Father…I promise you I will use this lance in your honor.”

    “Ahem,” Ike opined seconds later, gesturing towards Bryan’s injury.

    “Oh, right.”

    Bryan quickly grabbed a vulnerary from one of the shelves, sprinkled the powder on his leg, and motioned Ike to follow him out of the room.

    “By the way, you’ve also yet to tell me why you want to help Azura so badly,” Ike reminded the Halberdier.

    “Ah, yes. I was about to bring that up myself. You see, I—” Bryan was cut off by a loud female shriek from outside the shop. It was followed by several more screams which seemed to travel down the road. Ike and Bryan rushed through the broken door once more to find bandit reinforcements making their way right in their direction. However, Bryan’s men were nowhere to be found. Either they hadn’t made it back from Fort Absolon yet or they hadn’t made it, period. Apparently, Bryan himself had noticed this and grunted in annoyance.

    “Perfect. The last thing we need is enemy reinforcements,” he growled.

    “Ha, our little fishies took the bait!” one bandit jeered.

    “Aye,” another agreed. “Let’s rip ‘em up one side ‘n down the other!”

    “Yeah, so what else is new?” Ike replied in a sarcastic tone.

    “I am!” a young voice shouted in the distance. Kye was racing up the road to Bryan’s right, armed with a special dagger known as a kard.

    “What? Kye, what are you doing here? Don’t you know you’re the reason these clowns are still after us?” Bryan lectured, his hands on his hips.

    “Give him a break, Bryan. Don’t start acting like Skye now,” Ike retorted. “However, I must insist that you leave this mess to us, Kye. It’s far too dangerous with only us two to protect you.”

    “No way. I sounded the alert to evacuate, but everyone knows already. And no offense, but I don’t think even you two can take out all these creeps by yourselves,” Kye protested. “Besides that, I’m also tired of running. I’m not unarmed like I was before, so why should I keep acting like a coward?”

    “I’m sorry, Kye, but Ike is right. Not to mention they still have Azura’s pendant,” Bryan replied.

    “No they don’t, Bryan. Ike does,” Kye corrected with a smile.

    “What? Where did he get it?”

    “Kye stole it back and handed it to me,” Ike explained. “I would have given it back to Azura while I was still with her, but I figured the best strategy would be to keep it with me. Whatever you do, don’t let the bandits find out. As long as they think Kye gave it to Azura, the pendant is safe.”

    “Ah, good plan. As for Kye, is he—”

    “There’s the kid!” the gruff voice of the enemy leader yelled down the road. “An’ look at that, he’s got those two buddies of the redhead with ‘im. How sweet. We’re gonna get to pluck the kid and the girl’s two main pups today!”

    “I’d think twice about that if I were you,” Ike warned, drawing Ettardios once more. Bryan followed by readying his Brave Lance. Kye stood next to him boldly, his kard clutched in his right hand.

    “Yeah, I’m also done running from you meatheads! It’s time I fought back!” Kye added.

    “Ha, ya may have new weapons, but that don’t scare us none,” the leader of the bandit reinforcements replied. “Cut ‘em and cut ‘em down good, lads!”

    “They’re going to regret this,” Bryan intoned gravely as he, Ike, and Kye charged forth. Kye’s speed allowed him to easily evade the slow axe wielders, plunging his kard into a few of them within a minute. Bryan, due to the shear strength of a Brave Lance, cut the swordsmen down in numbers like they were vegetables being prepared for a salad. Ettardios proved to be quite the advantage against even the strongest axes the enemy had whenever Ike made successful blows. Knowing who he would be going to from now on about weapon forging, Ike continued to proudly wield the blade.

    “Ryin’s got my business, that’s for sure,” Ike commented as he almost casually clove a bandit in half.

    “Save some for me, would ya?” Kye griped, rolling between a bandit’s legs and sinking his blade into his foe’s back.

    Ike and Bryan were seasoned warriors and Kye, not unlike the young archer, Rolf and fire mage, Tormod back in Tellius, seemed quite formidable for someone his age. It took little time for the group to reach the leader, but he was armed with a short axe which allowed him to fight at range as well as in close quarters. After insisting that Bryan stay out of the axe’s long range, Ike quickly asked Kye if he had any knives, but the rogue said all he had with him was his kard and an iron dagger. Concluding that the last enemy was up to him, Ike engaged in battle, knowing full well he had an advantage with Ettardios, but only if he could get close before the enemy could manage an accurate throw. Almost instantly, the leader threw his short axe in Ike’s direction, who evaded it by bending over backwards which he turned into a back flip that brought him to his feet. Once he regained his balance, the mercenary once more attempted to race into close range, but only found the short axe constantly get thrown his way when it returned to its owner’s hand. Thankfully, Ike was fast enough to dodge every attempt, letting the axe strike buildings and other objects around him instead. Bryan and Kye watched in concern, wishing there was some way to help, but the axe flew in their direction once in awhile as well.

    As he continued moving backwards and sideways in order to avoid the short axe’s flying blade, Ike soon found himself tripping over a crack in the road and tumbling to the ground, the impact of which fell mostly on his left ankle. The bandit approached him as the mercenary’s body connected with the somewhat hard road. He smiled deviously, muttering something to the effect of ‘lucky break,’ as his axe went over his shoulder and cackled proudly. Ike attempted to move, but the pain in his ankle was too much to put his weight on. Damn it! Me and my muscles! Ike thought with a grimace, knowing muscle weighed more than fat, making him a lot heavier than he appeared to be.

    “Hahaha. I got ya now!” the bandit said with delight. However, as he attempted to strike a worried Ike one last time, the bandit let out a sudden bellow of pain and collapsed to the ground. Standing where he had been previously was Kye, armed with a bloody Kard. His face pinched with an anger that verged on feral.

    “No one attempts to kill the legendary Ike while I’m around!” Kye exclaimed.

    “Heh. Thanks, Kye. I really owe you one,” Ike replied, slowly rising to his feet as he endured the pain shooting up from his ankle.

    “No problem. You saved me once, so I decided to return the favor,” Kye dismissed with a smile, which turned upside down when he noted Ike’s limp. “Are you going to be alright, though? It looks like you can’t use that ankle you fell on too well.”

    “I’ll probably be limping for awhile, but I should be fine. I can still fight, at least,” Ike assured.

    “Well, if you’re sure.”

    “Don’t worry. Trust me, I’ve had much worse. You are talking to a warrior who defeated a goddess of all things, you know.”

    “Yeah, that’s true,” Kye agreed with a chuckle. “Well I’ll be off now. I wish I could join you guys, but Mr. Ryin still needs me. I heard those bandits killed the magistrate, so Mr. Ryin is probably helping to coordinate the evacuation to Fort Absolon. He’ll need all the help he can get, I’m afraid. See ya later!”

    Kye then instantly bolted off. Bryan rejoined Ike seconds later.

    “Wow, Ike. I thought I was going to explode just now,” he commented, looking a tad shaky.

    “Well, you don’t have to worry anymore, of course. Let’s go rejoin the others. They’re the ones who have to worry,” Ike pointed out.

    “I won’t argue with that,” Bryan replied. “…Hey, hold on a second.”

    “What now?” Ike wondered with a groan.

    “Look there! That loose brick in my father’s shop!” Bryan exclaimed, pointing to the left outer wall of the shop. The loose brick he was pointing at had the sun shining directly on it, causing some object near it to sparkle brightly. The brick appeared to have been partially chiseled away from the wall.

    “Huh. That’s odd. Bricks don’t sparkle like that,” Ike mused aloud, eyeing the object with confusion.

    “No, but diamonds do!” Bryan replied after he raced over to the brick, chipped it loose from the wall, and pulled it out. The Halberdier then produced a sparkling diamond necklace embroidered with sapphires and rubies which had been concealed behind the brick. Ike’s eyes popped open instantly and raced to Bryan’s side. As they both looked at the jewelry closely, they noticed a small inscription engraved on the back of the necklace’s pendant. It depicted only a single sentence: For my wife, Caline.

  10. #10
    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    Next up, chapter 9. :D


    Chapter 9: A New Path


    Neither Bryan nor Ike said anything for moments on in. Ike just watched in confusion as Bryan silently stared at the inscription on the necklace as if the piece of jewelry had been something he hadn’t seen in years. Slowly, he turned his gaze away from the words and just stared into space. Clearly this find had struck a sensitive spot, Ike concluded, and decided he really couldn’t blame Bryan. If his father was simply a shopkeeper, why would he have expensive-looking jewelry hidden in the bricks of his shop of all places? And why would he want to keep it hidden from his own son? Ike was about to bring these questions up to Bryan when the Halberdier suddenly let go of the necklace, letting it begin to fall to the dirty ground below.

    “Whoa!” Ike gasped, breaking the silence and catching the jewelry just in time. “Bryan, what’s wrong with you? This has to be the most valuable thing in the entire town!”

    Bryan simply grimaced before responding.

    “I-I’m sorry…” he replied. “It’s just that not only finding the necklace, but that inscription on it as well made me so very shocked. Caline…”

    “Why would that be? What about this Caline woman?” Ike inquired.

    “Ike...remember when I was going to tell you why I wanted to help Azura as much as I do?”

    “Yeah, but what does that have to do with anything?”

    “Well, you see, my reasoning for it and being shocked at this finding are almost the same,” Bryan explained. “I know how Azura feels. I don’t know much of my parents or my own past.”

    “What do you mean? You have your father and seem to know plenty about him.”

    “That I do, but he’s all I have. Still, I now think there’s a lot more I don’t know about him. And I never knew my mother at all. My father has kept her and my past from me, just like Azura’s foster mother did hers. The difference is that I do know one of my real parents and that after so many years of searching, I never found any clues. That is…until now.”

    “So you’re saying you think Caline may have been your mother?”

    “Exactly. But the necklace is obviously very valuable like you said before. I don’t see how my father could afford it. Unless…he was really something more.”

    “Yeah, it’s obvious that he’s been keeping a lot from you. I’d feel the same way.”

    “Indeed. Another difference between Azura and myself is that for so long, I knew my past was being kept hidden,” Bryan went on. “Azura’s foster mother lied to her instead. But me? My father never said a word about my mother or where I came from. Every time I’d ask about it, he’d only sigh and change the subject.”

    “Wow. Talk about secretive.”

    “Uh huh. For years I tried to find possible clues, but I failed. If Azura doesn’t get all the help she needs, she’ll end up like me, knowing her past is hidden and that she hasn’t found where she belongs. I don’t want her to suffer the same fate I have. I still wish to know who I really am myself. I joined Talgria’s army to try finding my place in this world, but I haven’t succeeded.”

    “I have to admit, you are in a pretty tight spot.”

    “I agree. And this finding changes my plans,” Bryan replied, taking back the necklace from Ike. “If this Caline was indeed my mother and my father’s wife, I want to know where she is, and why she was never around. As much as I want to continue with the rest of you to Eraghoa, I feel the best way I can help Azura right now is to help myself.”

    “That may be, but are you sure about this?” Ike inquired. “Azura thinks only you can get us there.”

    “I’m afraid she’s mistaken. I have little knowledge on the land where the forest is located.”

    “Well, blast. What are we to do then?”

    “I can direct you out of the mountains, but not much farther than that. I know there’s a town or two near where I’ll be leading you, so maybe someone there can give you further instructions,” Bryan suggested.

    “Alright then,” Ike agreed. “Can you at least come with me back to the trail so everyone knows you’re alright?”

    “Yeah, I suppose I should.”

    With that, the two warriors headed back in the direction where the rest of the group awaited them along the mountain trail. Bryan hid the necklace within his supplies as he followed Ike and chose to keep the finding to himself unless it was necessary to reveal it. Along the way, Ike recalled something else he had been meaning to do in town and asked Bryan the favor of taking care of the matter for him, but only to keep it between them. After Ike explained why the issue needed to be kept a secret, Bryan smiled pleasantly and agreed to be of service. Ike took this to be a bit of surprise, since early on he had not shown any sign of being the kind of man who would help him with such a situation, but carefully explained everything Bryan needed to know despite it.

    “Ike, are you sure—” Bryan began, but had been cut off.

    “Shhh! Keep your voice down, I haven’t any clue where the others might have gone to hide, plus our voices will echo in a place like this,” Ike interrupted in a low tone. “And of course I’m sure. By now I should know Elincia’s tastes.”

    “Heh well, if you insist. You are the one she loves after all.”

    “Yeah, and she’s not the only one,” Ike replied, remembering several times in Tellius he’d listened to girls flirt with him. “Believe me, I’ve had my share of attention from the women.”

    “Ha, I can see why. You don’t know what some men would give to look as good as you, Ike,” Bryan assured him.

    “Oh, I’m sure, but looks aren’t everything. In fact, I know some people who might find me too blunt,” Ike pointed out. “Not to mention one of the members of my mercenary company probably still hates my guts like he always has.”

    He couldn’t help but recall Shinon’s never-ending grudge against him and wonder yet again why it even existed.

    “What? Really? How can anyone hate you of all people?”

    “No one’s perfect, Bryan.”

    “Well, true. Still, you’re probably the most famous person in the world now.”

    “Oh come on. That shouldn’t matter either. Famous or not, I’d still be the simple mercenary that I always have been.”

    “And how can you be so sure of that?” Bryan wondered with a sarcastic smile.

    “Uh…is that a trick question?”

    “Never mind. Come on, we need to find the rest of the group.”

    Deciding to simply let the matter go, Ike continued with Bryan further down the trail, hoping to find their comrades shortly. However, as the distance between the two warriors and Narcoss continued to increase, there was still no sign of their missing allies. Either they had managed to hide themselves very well, or something was wrong. Or perhaps there was yet another explanation that neither Ike nor Bryan were thinking of.

    Meanwhile, standing high atop a cliff as a lookout, Skye was keeping a sharp eye out for Ike and Bryan. Being an archer, if Skye spotted anyone who looked like they could belong to the enemy, he could fire away and help defend the others by warning them at the same time. An efficient strategy was needed since their group was still down by the strength of two essential allies. Azura periodically checked in with Skye while the rest of the group kept watch elsewhere for the enemy. Finally, when Skye was beginning to feel boredom, he spotted two familiar figures traveling down the path which he could see down below.

    “Geez, it’s about time…” Skye said to himself as he turned around to pass on the news. “Hey, Azura! The guys are back!”

    “Are you serious? Oh, thank goodness. I was starting to get worried,” Azura replied. “They’ve been gone an awfully long time.”

    “Yeah, they’re down there. Probably looking for us,” Skye said, pointing to the two figures of Ike and Bryan.

    “Oh yeah, they would be. Better get their attention,” Azura agreed and turned her attention to her unaware comrades. “Hey, Ike! Bryan! Can you guys hear me?” Azura’s voice echoed down below just enough for both Ike and Bryan to hesitate upon hearing it. They quickly glanced around them in order to find where the voice was coming from, but found nothing. As a result, they simply stood there in confusion.

    “We’re up here!” Azura called again, this time waving an arm. Ike and Bryan focused their eyes on what was above them and found Azura and Skye standing atop the high cliff.

    “Oh. What are you doing way up there?” Ike wondered.

    “What you told us to, silly. You’re the experienced warrior around here, so we listened,” Azura explained.

    “Yeah, but did you have to go that far?” Bryan asked, not one for climbing in the armor he wore.

    “Unfortunately, we did. See, Skye took the job of being a lookout since he’s our only bow user. Not long after we’d gotten up here, he spotted more of those bandits,” Azura explained. “They were never even aware that anyone was here.”

    “Well, that’s good to know. We’ll come up there, then,” Ike decided.

    “Ike, must we? It’s hard for me to go up hilly land in this tiring armor,” Bryan complained.

    “I bet it is, but I’m sure you’ll manage. It’s not that far,” Ike replied. “Now come on, don’t be a baby.”

    “Sigh… I guess.”

    Bryan was still resentful of the idea, but cooperated anyway since it was true that having Azura and the others come out of hiding would be risky. As he and Ike made their way up the slope, they noticed it truly wasn’t as far as it seemed at first after all. The slope of the hill wasn’t as steep as Bryan originally anticipated either, making it less trouble than he’d imagined. Upon arriving at the top a mere few minutes later, they greeted Azura, relieving her of all the concern she’d had while the two were absent. They had also been greeted by Ranulf, Skye, and Morris, both of whom also had been quite worried, with boredom apparently added to Morris’s side. Marc and Leona followed seconds later.

    “Oh, Ike! You’re limping! What happened to you?” Azura wondered with great curiosity after noticing Ike’s abnormal walking.

    “Oh, it’s nothing. I simply fell on that ankle a little hard,” Ike replied. “I’ll be fine.”

    “Well, I hope so,” Azura said, hands on her hips. “Oh, and my pendant. We still haven’t found it…”

    “Don’t worry. I have it,” Ike assured her.

    “What? How’d you get it so fast?” Azura wondered with surprise.

    “It’s complicated. I’ll explain later.”

    “Oh, I see…”

    “…So, is everyone here?” Bryan inquired, wanting to be sure before he went on his way.

    “I believe so,” Skye reported, glancing around. Ike double-checked just to be sure of Skye’s claim, but noticed a fault in his words.

    “Hold on…where’s Elincia?!” Ike gasped, his eyes widened in seconds. Everyone suddenly scrutinized the area around them, but Elincia was indeed missing.

    “What?! “ Azura exclaimed in response. “Marc! What is the meaning of this?! It was your job to make sure everyone was here while we waited!”

    “Hey, now come on, don’t blame me!” Marc argued. “I did check for everyone just as Ike and Bryan got up here and I swear to Ashunera Elincia was here a minute ago!”

    Before Azura could make a reply, however, a frightened female voice cried out for help. Ike recognized it right away.

    “Elincia!” he called. “Where are you?! Please answer me!”

    “Ike?! I-I’m down here! Stuck! HELP!” Elincia replied. Her voice was coming from another end of the cliff not seen where Ike and Bryan were initially.

    “Oh no! She’s fallen over the cliff!” Ranulf exclaimed and pointed behind Leona.

    “Then come on! That’s my woman clinging for life over there!” Ike retorted and rushed to Elincia’s aid immediately. The others followed and soon found Elincia clinging to some small rocks sticking out of the cliff wall. She was hanging on as tight as she could, but it didn’t appear that she would keep her grip for very long.

    “Ugh! No! Elincia’s too far down for any of us to reach!” Azura pointed out.

    “Then there’s only one thing to do!” Ike concluded. Without another thought, he leaped off the cliff and descended below.

    “Ike, have you lost your mind?!” Ranulf exclaimed, his worried expression turning into a shocked one. Ike didn’t give a reply. Instead, he drew Ettardios and thrust it into the cliff wall to slow his descent while keeping his focus on Elincia.

    “Elincia! When I get below you, jump to me!” he called to her.

    “A-Alright…” she stammered.

    Ike fell below her a few seconds later and immediately, but reluctantly let go of her place on the cliff wall, knowing it was her only chance to be saved. Luckily for both of them, she managed to land safely in Ike’s free arm and clutch his neck with as good a grip as possible. She buried her face in Ike’s chest as she kept her arms squeezed around his neck. Ike grimaced in annoyance as the two kept falling.

    “C’mon! I need to slow down a little more here!” he mumbled. However, he hadn’t dropped speed quickly enough to keep from landing with a thud on his own two feet when reaching the ground below.

    “Errrg…” Ike muttered in pain. “Ouch…”

    “Ike! Are you alright?!” Elincia inquired, letting go of him immediately. “Did I do something?”

    “No…it’s my ankle…” Ike replied, grimacing in great pain. “I fell on it earlier and landing on it like I did now…”

    “Oh…that’s not good at all,” Elincia said, feeling the concern return to her. “I hope you didn’t break it!”

    Before responding, Ike attempted to get to his feet, but the severe pain of his left ankle prevented him from doing so. However, that didn’t stop him from choosing to move it in order to kill off some of the pain. It pleased Ike to know that it was gradually helping.

    “Nah, I don’t think so. I can move it somewhat,” Ike assured. “Though, I don’t think I can walk on it anymore.”

    “Hey, Ike! Are you alright over there?!” a voice called from nearby. It was Bryan, followed by the rest of the group.

    “No…that landing rendered me unable to walk,” Ike explained.

    “What?!” Azura gasped. “Blast…”

    “Ike, I told you that was a foolhardy move!” Ranulf lectured.

    “Well gee, what would you have done if the woman you loved was in danger and you couldn’t reach her by arm’s length?!” Ike retorted in annoyance as Bryan and Elincia helped him up. “I wasn’t just going to let her hang there!”

    “I would have thought before I acted, moron!” Ranulf argued back.

    “You want to try saying that to my face?!”

    “Boys! Knock it off!” Azura stepped in. “You’re acting like children!”

    “Agreed. We’ve got bigger problems anyway,” Bryan added, startled at the behavior himself. “Elincia is safe and the incident is over. What’s important is getting Ike to a healer. No vulnerary is going to heal this.”

    “I’m afraid he’s right, but I have an idea,” Leona stepped in. “I used to be an apprentice to a Valkyrie before deciding to learn the lance instead, and I still know where she lives. Perhaps we can take Ike there.”

    “Alright, then that’s what we’ll do,” Azura decided.

    “Hey Azura, as much as I’d like to continue with you, I’m going to stay here for awhile,” Bryan informed, remembering the real reason he’d come back in the first place. “Let’s just say I have some business in Narcoss that I must take care of. Ike can explain everything to you.”
    “Alright then. But Bryan, we’ll we see you again?” Azura wondered.

    “Oh, of course. I’ll try to rejoin you at the forest. If not, then Eraghoa. I’ll find my way there, don’t worry,” Bryan assured her.

    “You mean you don’t know the way after all? Bummer…” Azura replied with disappointment. “We’ll find directions while getting Ike some help then.”

    “Sounds like a plan. I can tell you how to get out of the mountains, though,” Bryan said, and then explained the correct path that would give the group a good head start. The path they were currently on should take them east until reaching a fork in the road. After that, the fork on their left would take them north to the foot of the mountains. The rest of the way would be fairly obvious.

    “Well, that doesn’t sound too difficult,” Azura concluded. “Thanks, Bryan.”

    “No problem,” Bryan replied. “And hey, even though I can’t help you directly right now, I can leave you Skye and Morris. I hope they will serve you well.”

    “Oh? Thank you again, Bryan…” Azura replied, closing her eyes in happiness again.

    “Again, no problem,” Bryan said with a smile and then turned to Skye and Morris themselves. “You two hear that? You do whatever Azura says while I’m not here.”

    “You bet, Captain,” Skye replied.

    “Yes sir!” Morris happily complied.

    “Oh, one more thing,” Bryan added. “Morris, behave yourself. Don’t get lost again, please. No one here needs the same problems you’ve dumped on me.”

    “I’ll do my best not to, sir,” Morris promised. “And you’re right. A little irritating and unappreciative of my skills, but right.”

    “Oh, get over yourself. Now that that’s settled, I must be on my way,” Bryan continued. “Ike, I thank you again for all your help back in town. Take care of yourself, and see you all later.”

    With that, Bryan turned around and soon let the sight of his green armor disappear back down the very same path he and Ike had originally arrived by. Although Azura did not like having to let go a warrior at Bryan’s strength, she knew he had already gone to great lengths to aid her, and thus could understand his plight. For the next several seconds, no one said anything, since it was not going to be easy getting used to Bryan’s sudden absence. The Halberdier hadn’t been with them very long already, and now he was temporarily gone. Still, Azura simply smiled and moved along, knowing Bryan would be fine on his own.

    “Hey…wait a second, wasn’t that a Brave Lance he was holding?” Marc inquired seconds later. “Where’d he get that?”

    “Long story, Marc,” Ike replied, now being supported by Skye and Elincia, since he could not freely stand on his injured ankle anymore. “I’ll explain on the way, like he said.”

    “I see…” Marc replied, raising one eyebrow. No one can blame a person for wondering where a warrior would get a brave weapon, as they were that rare and expensive.

    “Well, we have no reason to be here any longer, so let’s say good bye to this place,” Azura said, turning around to head down the path Bryan directed them to. “Leona, where exactly is this Valkyrie you mentioned?”

    “She lives in a small village called Kolah,” Leona explained as the group went on their way. “It just so happens to be near the Forest of Hope.”

    “Oh, excellent,” Azura replied, relieved yet again. “We can stop on the way to Eraghoa then.”

    “Forest of Hope? Is that what you call this forest that runs along the border?” Ike wondered.

    “That’s right. I don’t know much about it, but from the stories I’ve heard, it’s where the peace between the beorc and laguz here originated,” Azura explained. “The event gave us hope for both races, resulting in the name we’ve come to know it by. I think it’s best that we see it for ourselves to really understand, though.”

    “Indeed, it would be best,” Marc stepped in. “I’ve actually been there once, though I was only a boy at the time.”

    “Marc, you have? Would you happen to know how to get there?” Azura asked, in hopes that they could save time by not having to ask for directions elsewhere.

    “I…can’t say that I remember,” Marc replied. “I apologize.”

    “Oh, that’s alright,” Azura said with a smile. “I’m sure we’ll manage.”

    “Yeah, Bryan said there should be a town or two close to where he directed us,” Ike added.

    “Oh? That’s going to help a lot,” Azura replied. “We might need some last minute supplies. Now Ike, what were you going to explain to us about Bryan?”

    “Well, he’s found some possible shreds of his past,” Ike began.

    “What? Do you mean to say…?” Azura wondered in surprise. Ike nodded before continuing his words and gave the group a summary of the events that had occurred in Narcoss before he and Bryan returned to the mountain trail. Starting with finding the Halberdier with a badly injured leg to the battle at the shop belonging to Bryan’s father, Ike made sure not to leave any of the details out, including how he’d gotten ahold of Azura’s pendant. However, he decided it was best not to mention the jeweled necklace at the time being. He wished he could tell Azura the secret deal he’d made with Bryan, but Elincia’s presence prevented him from doing so. Ike also remembered to ask if he could keep the pendant with him for awhile, explaining that it would be the best strategy.

    “Oh, please do, Ike,” Azura agreed. “I think it’d be safer in your hands anyway.”

    “Perhaps,” Ike replied. “But you had to have done well to guard it if you’ve had it your whole life.”

    “Yeah, I guess,” Azura said, still unsure of herself. “But I can’t believe it… Bryan having a situation similar to mine like that…”

    “Indeed. It’s obvious that he has a good heart and I can see why he’s a leader,” Ike said. “He’s trying to find his father and figure his own family out for you.”

    “Yes… And I am completely grateful,” Azura agreed with a pleasant smile.

    “I’m also shocked,” Skye added, able to hear the whole conversation. “Bryan has told me that he never knew his mother, but not about his father deliberately hiding his past from him.”

    “Hmm…” Ike said in response.

    “Poor guy…” Elincia commented. “I wish there was some way we could help.”

    “Yeah, well, I guess we’ll see what happens when Bryan returns to us,” Ike decided.

    “Indeed. But Ike, about these bandits… You say they call themselves the Red Claw?” Azura inquired.

    “That’s right. At least that’s what Bryan’s father referred to them as in his letter,” Ike confirmed.

    “I see… Somehow, that name sounds vaguely familiar,” Azura replied. “But I’m not sure where I could have heard it before.”

    “Huh. Well, let’s figure this out later. Right now we have a more important situation to take care of,” Ike said, pointing to himself.

    “Haha, true.”

    It had been only another half an hour or so before the group emerged out of the woody and somewhat rocky terrain of the mountain trail. Glad to feel the relief of flat land for the first time in more than a day, they traveled on until they could see a town growing closer to them in the distance. Assuming it was one of the towns Bryan said they should come near, Azura and Ike agreed to head through and pick up any remaining supplies they might need since stocking up in Narcoss as well as losing a little when Ike had battled alongside Bryan and Kye. However, they were unaware that the town was not as peaceful as it appeared to be.

    Upon entering its main gates, the only thing passing by at all were either men showing signs of anger or women who looked like they were ready to cry. Everyone hesitated for moments on in watching as people simply bumped into others as well as the group themselves without even saying a word. Those who were hit simply shook it off and showed no signs of caring at all, except for a few who decided to argue about it. Clearly something happened prior to Azura and company’s arrival to cause this massive anger outbreak, as there is next to no chance that a whole town could simply be upset at the same time by coincidence.

    “I smell a rat,” Ranulf spoke up, finally breaking the silence.

    “Yeah. It’s times like these where knights of Talgria are needed on the job, however,” Marc replied. “Allow me to figure out what’s going on here.”

    With that, Marc trotted his horse over to a local woman and questioned her about the town’s mood. Seconds later, an aging man in slightly tattered clothing approached the two and joined the conversation. It wasn’t long before said man gasped and began raising his voice at Azura’s group.

    “Hey! It’s that girl those bandits are looking for!” he suddenly shouted. “Here’s our chance, everyone! We give her to them and they’ll finally leave us alone!”

    “Are you positive this time, you old geezer?” a younger man inquired. “Last time you said giving them gold would drive them off and here we are broke as a smashed egg!”

    “Cross my heart!” the first man replied. “They even have two of General Leyon’s knights with them! I recognize that armor anywhere, so that redhead has to be the girl if they’ve teamed up with her! Get them all NOW!”

    Without warning, around a dozen or so villagers came out garbed in militia uniforms and armor, some armed with swords while others carried lances, bows, and axes. Marc quickly retreated back to his comrades where Ranulf gave him a bitter look.

    “It’s times like these where knights of Talgria are needed, huh?” he repeated, hands on his hips.

    “Yeah, what did you do this time, Marc?!” Leona demanded.

    “Nothing! All I did was ask the woman what was wrong!” Marc replied. “I’m not lying!”

    “Oh yeah, then why did that man talk to you and then scream at us?!”

    “How should I know? I didn’t say a word to him!”

    “You had to have said something!”

    “No, I didn’t! Stop blaming me for every damn thing that goes wrong!”

    “Alright, that’s enough you two,” Ike stepped in. “Obviously the Red Claw has been causing so much trouble for these people that they’ve gotten confused enough to where they’d do anything to get rid of them.”

    “Ike is right,” Azura added. “We shouldn’t stay here long or else we’ll bring those bandits right back. It is me that they’re after.”

    “Right. Let’s try to avoid as much fighting here as possible. We have no intention of harming local villagers,” Ike pointed out. “If they try to block our path out, shove them out of the way.”

    “It’d also be a good idea to take the smallest streets to avoid getting surrounded,” Elincia added.

    “Ah, yes. That too,” Ike agreed. “I’ll go commute through these buildings since I’d lag behind out here and meet up with you later.”

    “Oh no you don’t. Not by yourself,” Elincia insisted. “I’m going to cover you.”

    “Elincia, no. I’m not letting you put yourself in danger again,” Ike protested.

    “You can barely move, Ike. You need help. And my swordsmanship has gotten good enough to where I can do a task such as this by myself.”

    “Sigh… Alright. But be careful.”

    Elincia nodded without hesitation and began leading Ike into the nearest building, which appeared to be a shop. The rest of the group quickly began splitting up to take other paths to make avoiding battles that much less difficult. Ike hopped his way through the shop on one foot with Elincia by his side in case any of the militia spotted them. Suddenly, just as they were going to sneak through the back door, a new voice quietly called out to them.

    “Hey, you! I don’t think you’re going to get very far hopping like a scared rabbit,” the voice replied, sounding feminine.

    “Huh? Where’d you come from?” Elincia asked when she turned around to find an orange haired woman dressed in clothing similar to what most Clerics wore.

    “There’s no time to explain. If you wish to avoid those crazy people out there while being injured, I can lead you to safety,” the woman replied. “As well as heal your ankle.”

    “You can? Please do,” Ike insisted. “My other foot is getting painful from carrying my weight.”

    “I’m glad to be of some aid. Oh, and my name is Lisa. I’m a Valkyrie,” the woman said. “Anyway, my horse is out back. We must hurry.”

    Ike and Elincia made no hesitation to follow Lisa out through the back door to where her horse awaited. After Ike hopped on to avoid having to hop anymore, Lisa rode off at a pace slow enough for Elincia to follow, but quick enough to get them close to the edge of town in several minutes by way of several alleys and buildings. Once Ike was healed and free to walk again, the only thing left to do was await the arrival of Azura and the others.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    Chapter 10!


    Chapter 10: The Forest of Hope


    Thanks to Lisa’s guidance, Ike and Elincia made it to the edge of town faster than they originally anticipated. Although they were forced to go through old, damaged buildings in older parts of the town due to militia reinforcements showing up roughly half way through the journey, Lisa’s sense of direction did not fail to lead them down the safest paths. Ike and Elincia heaved sighs of relief upon reaching the outskirts, finally able to take a rest and get Ike on his feet properly again. Once Lisa’s horse came to a final halt, Ike carefully lowered himself out of the saddle and onto the ground so as not to worsen his injury even more. Lisa followed without hesitation.

    “Alright, we should be safe here,” she informed them. “Let me see your foot now. I was right in guessing it was your ankle, correct?”

    “Yeah,” Ike confirmed. “How’d you figure it out?”

    “The way you didn’t move it much, of course,” Lisa explained as she reached for a healing staff. “I am a healer after all, so I must know how to tell one injury from another, no?”

    “Ah, yes,” Ike remembered, knowing that was the same knowledge Mist had to have. “My sister is the same as you, a Valkyrie, so she’s told me some stuff.”

    “I see. Your name is Ike, isn’t it?” Lisa inquired.

    “That’s right. I’m glad to see at least one person not act like it’s the greatest thing in the world,” Ike replied.

    “Yeah, I’ve heard about you and so have others from my area. I’m the only one I know who isn’t surprised to see you in our lands,” Lisa explained as she focused her staff on Ike’s lower leg.

    “Oh?”

    “Yes indeed. From what I’ve heard, you sounded like the kind of guy who’d enjoy exploring.”

    “I certainly do.”

    It only took a minute for Lisa to finish letting her staff glow long enough to have repaired the sprain in Ike’s ankle.

    “Alright, that ought to do it,” she declared and rose to her feet again, having to kneel and bend over in order to reach Ike’s foot. Ike moved the once damaged extremity around some more to be sure he could properly use it again. Unsurprisingly, it felt as good as new.

    “It feels like it was never injured. Thanks a lot,” Ike voiced in satisfaction.

    “My pleasure,” Lisa replied with a smile. “And this young lady here is…?”

    “Elincia,” Elincia introduced herself. “By the way, do you know a knight of Talgria named Leona?”

    Upon hearing her ask that question, Ike figured Elincia thought Lisa could be the Valkyrie that Leona had been talking about earlier.

    “Why, yes I do. She used to be my apprentice before deciding she was more interested in combat than healing,” Lisa confirmed. “Why do you ask?”

    “Well, it just so happens that she said we should bring Ike to you for exactly this purpose,” Elincia said with a slight laugh.

    “Oh, well, how about that?” Lisa laughed with Elincia in her response.

    Deciding to see how Leona was fairing these days, Lisa stayed to wait alongside Ike and Elincia for their group to escape town. Silence spread through the area as the trio awaited their comrades’ safe arrival. One thought came to Ike’s mind as they waited, and that was how many different ways there could be to leave a town such as this, what with the number of alley ways and streets there were. It was certainly possible for Azura and company to end up taking a different route, not knowing Ike and Elincia had gone elsewhere to escape. That would delay their departure which, given the mood of the villagers, could prove fatal.

    Ike could only hope for the best and that they found one another no matter which way they went. Once he brought up the thought to Elincia as well as Lisa, it began to remind Ike of a certain similar situation that had occurred in Tellius when he was aiding Ranulf and the Laguz Alliance. They were attempting to retreat from Begnion and go back to the beast laguz nation of Gallia after General Skrimir, Ranulf’s commander, had been defeated by Begnion’s General Zelgius in a personal duel. They had come to a place called the Kauku Caves, which had been a very treacherous and deadly route to pass through. It was torturously hot inside, and lava flowed through the cave’s trenches. In fiery rivers that expelled small meteorites in deadly liquid flame. However, it was the group’s only choice if they were to get away from Begnion’s troops supporting the Imperial Senate’s cruel plans. These caves had two separate exits, one leading to Gallia, and the other leading to the dragon laguz nation of Goldoa.

    Unfortunately, the group had ended up in Goldoa, the next worst thing that could happen to them. Goldoa was a neutral nation in all affairs and forbade foreigners from entering their land. And, the might of the dragons made intrusions into their territory foolhardy if not suicidal. Although Reyson, a heron laguz from Serenes, being in the party had convinced King Deghinsea to allow the two dragon laguz Ena and Nasir to safely lead them to Gallia’s border, it was still a close call for them all. There would be nothing to worry about if Azura and company reached Ike and Elincia whether they went through a different exit or not, but if they were to take a long time, whether or not to be concerned would become questionable. Too long a delay would mean having to choose between running the risk of being overrun by the hostile villagers or leaving the others behind and that was a choice Ike felt he could never make. Not to mention the possibility that too long a delay might mean that the others wouldn’t be coming at all. By now, Ike had been so deep in thought about the matter that he almost didn’t hear a voice call out to him.

    “Ike! Elincia!” the voice exclaimed. It was Ranulf’s. Ike shook his head upon hearing the cat laguz’s voice, snapping out of his trance. Ranulf was followed by Azura, Marc, and Morris, but Skye and Leona were still nowhere in sight. This posed a new problem for everyone. The group must have somehow been separated while choosing routes to take.

    “Hey!” Elincia responded when she took note of the partial group. “Where’s the rest of the group?”

    “Yeah, I don’t see Leona or Skye anywhere,” Ike added in concern.

    “I have no idea…” Azura admitted, looking behind her in curiosity. “They must have gotten forced to fight back there. Oh, I certainly hope no one is dying!”

    “Ha! For once, there’s no way she can say it’s my fault!” Marc chuckled, glee in his voice. “One of the larger causes of our bickering is her always thinking she’s a perfect little angel and I’m the troublemaker.”

    “Well, I have to admit, Leona did blame you earlier…” Azura recalled. “Oh, and who might she be?”

    She noticed Lisa standing to Elincia’s right.

    “Oh, my apologies. I’m Lisa,” Lisa greeted. “I was the one who led Ike and Elincia here.”

    “I see,” Azura responded. “That horse and staff in your hand… Did you heal Ike too?”

    “I certainly did. In fact, I’m the very same Valkyrie Leona wanted you to bring him to. I heard the story from Ike himself.”

    Before Azura could say another word, the sound of a horse’s hooves echoed in the distance. Within seconds, Leona appeared in the opposite direction from where Azura, Ranulf, and the others had come, followed by Skye. Skye lagged a bit behind, but struggled to keep up regardless.
    “Gosh, I’m so sorry we’re late,” Leona apologized when she brought her horse to a halt. “We had gotten cornered in an alley way after wandering into a dead end. If Skye and I hadn’t decided to stick together, we’d have never gotten out of there.”

    “You can say that again,” Skye seconded. “Those villagers are persistent. I’ll give them that much.”

    “You didn’t kill anyone, did you?!” Azura frantically wondered.

    “No, thankfully we only had to give them a few minor injuries in order to escape,” Leona confirmed.

    “Good. It’d only hurt us more if we started killing other Talgrians,” Azura pointed out.

    “Agreed,” Leona replied. “Hey… Lisa, what are you doing here? I thought you had gone back to Kolah.”

    “This isn’t Kolah?” Elincia wondered in surprise.

    “No, it’s not. I was in Kolah,” Lisa explained. “But someone from here asked me to come and heal some injured people since enemies hadn’t yet been seen up north. Bandits had stolen all their staves, so there was nothing else they could do. I’ve stayed here since to cover for them.”

    “Oh…” Leona replied with a frown. “That’s no good. I guess you have to continue aiding this town then, right?”

    “Yes, unfortunately, even though your group could use my help,” Lisa confirmed.

    “Indeed, we could,” Ike stepped in. “We did recently pick up a good stock of supplies though, so as long as we don’t run into serious trouble, we should be fine until we reach Eraghoa.”

    “So that’s where you’re headed,” Lisa noticed. “If you’re not sure how to get there, just continue heading in this direction and it should be easy to spot. I pray that your journey is a safe one.”

    “Ah, thank you! I was just about to bring that up. We’ll certainly try to make it that way,” Azura replied. “May we meet again, Lisa!”
    “May we, indeed!”

    After the remainder of the group bid their farewells to Lisa, they continued their journey to the mysterious Forest of Hope. The forest seemed to live up to the name as the party was filled with thoughts of hope actually shining upon their travels. Eraghoa was currently the only place Azura and company had to turn to for aid against the Red Claw, and if they could do nothing, the consequences would be unthinkable. Along the way, as both the hostile villagers and the chance of pursuit fell far behind them, the warriors held friendly conversation to pass the time by as they moved farther and farther north within Talgria’s borders. Ike was the first to speak, wondering about Elincia’s comfort in how much traveling they’ve been doing.

    “Elincia…” he addressed, breaking what seemed like a never ending silence. “I’m concerned about how you’re taking this. Are you sure you’re fine with moving around so much? I do recall that you’re used to riding a mount rather than walking.”

    “True, I did get quite attached to the Pegasus,” Elincia admitted. “But I’m just fine. Besides, I find I prefer fighting on foot to fighting on a mount.”

    “Just like me,” Ike observed with a smile. “If you’re alright with this, then I guess I have no reason to worry.”

    “Exactly, you worry wart,” Elincia playfully teased. “Calm yourself.”

    “Yes, your majesty,” Ike replied in a similar tone, punning Elincia’s previous position in Crimea. Elincia’s only response was a playful glare. Ike simply smiled proudly of his joke.

    “Haha, nice one, Ike,” Ranulf complimented. Elincia still said nothing, but this time quietly took hold of Ranulf’s tail, as she was walking behind him, causing it to pull and Elincia to ruffle some of the fur up.

    “Ouch!” Ranulf exclaimed, almost toppling over.

    “Serves you right,” Elincia taunted with a giggle.

    “Very funny!” Ranulf retorted, smoothing out his tail fur. “Messing with my beautiful tail like that. Of all the unappreciative people! Hey General Ike! You’re supposed to handle disciplinary action! Make her wash dishes or peel potatoes or something!”

    Elincia simply laughed again, partially at the accent Ranulf used.

    “I hope you aren’t horsing around back there, you guys,” Azura warned from ahead. “You might lag behind.”

    “Don’t worry, we’re not slowing down,” Ike promised, gesturing towards Elincia and Ranulf to be sure. Both gave him agreeing nods, though Ike had to slap Ranulf’s hand away from Elincia’s hair and cut short a retaliatory tug.

    The day rolled along into mid afternoon as the group finally approached the edge of the Talgrian Forest of Hope. The goal was to cross the border by nightfall so as not to risk getting lost in the woods. At night, the forest was much darker than the plains and the dense canopy of leaves blotted out the guiding moon, rendering it more difficult to navigate. Azura, as well as Ike and the others knew this all too well and were pleased to arrive at their destination while it was still daylight. The trees on the outskirts stood tall and mighty along various dirt paths running into the forested area ahead. They were as green as ever in the bright sunlight and a near symphony of songbirds scampered amongst the branches serenading merrily for the new arrivals. It was truly a beautiful forest, and Azura couldn’t resist taking a moment to admire it.

    “Gosh… This place is prettier than I’d imagined,” she murmured, awed.

    “Yes…just as beautiful as I remember it,” Marc added. “My dad has told me that its beauty is part of what influenced the beorc and laguz to be at peace. They once battled here, near this very site that we stand on. This forest was beautiful to them as well and they did not want to end up destroying it, so they set aside their differences.”

    “Really? I did want to ask you, Marc,” Azura recalled. “Could you…possibly tell about your trip here?”

    “I don’t see why not,” Marc agreed. “I don’t remember a whole lot, but what I do may be helpful. I was here with both my parents long ago. They took me for a short walk to show me something. Something about…our heritage.”

    “Your heritage?” Azura wondered.

    “Marc, are you saying your family is descended from the people who battled the laguz?” Ike wondered.

    “Exactly. At least that’s what my parents think. I don’t really want to call it that, though,” Marc replied. “I’d rather say I’m a descendant of the warriors who made peace with the laguz. Those same warriors, from both races, pledged to ensure the peace would endure and that their descendants would do the same. Those descendants are, nowadays, called the Oathsworn.”

    “Yeah, that’s understandable,” Ike agreed. “It’s like me wanting to say I saved a nation rather than killed hundreds of Daein soldiers in a war.”
    “Marc, you should be proud of that,” Leona complimented. “There are many beorc and laguz who highly respect those descended from the peacemakers.”

    “Yeah, I know. Being an Oathsworn is one reason why I gained knighthood,” Marc recalled.

    “What? I thought the General only accepted you because he had a small shortage of axe knights,” Leona taunted.

    “That’s not true!” Marc retorted hotly. “Well, he did say that, but that doesn’t mean he would have rejected me otherwise.”

    “I suppose.”

    “Well, I’m glad to see you two finally playing nice,” Skye commented with a hint of a smirk as he listened to the conversation.

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” Marc inquired suspiciously.

    “He means you’re starting to show your love,” Azura explained in a flirty tone. Neither Marc nor Leona replied right away, but instead froze in their places in the middle of the woods. Ike and Ranulf, as well as Morris, were busy trying to hold back their laughter. Elincia giggled alongside Azura, to no surprise. Skye shot Azura a sign that said perfection behind his back.

    “What? Th-That’s ridiculous!” Leona babbled in retort.

    “Really now, Leona?” Morris replied, giving her a wink.

    “Actually, Leona, now that they mention it, I’m starting to think the real reason you get on my nerves is because you do like me,” Marc teased, folding his arms with a smile.

    “Vice versa too, Marky boy,” Ranulf added. After this statement, neither him, Ike, nor Morris could keep to themselves any longer and burst into laughter.

    “Touche,” Elincia agreed, still in a giggle.

    “Ha!” Leona exclaimed, now her turn to smile.

    “N-Now that’s going too far!” Marc protested as he became red as Leona was.

    “Oh, is it?” Azura wondered in a sarcastic voice. In no time at all, the whole group save for Marc and Leona was caught in the hilarity of it. Marc and Leona themselves didn’t look anything more than embarrassed, even though they knew their comrades were simply having fun with them. Ike was the first to bring his laughing to a halt, only suddenly have his mirth replaced with alarm. No one noticed it at first, but unknown to them was that Ike had a very good reason for stopping so suddenly.

    “Wait, quiet!” he commanded urgently, putting a hand out to silence the group. Without hesitation, everyone grew quiet as quickly as they had become noisy and listened to what Ike claimed to be hearing. It only took seconds for the sound of faint voices and footsteps to echo throughout the forest somewhere nearby. Azura and Ike motioned the group to follow them quietly to figure out what the commotion was. No one made any hesitation to comply, as the voices did not sound like that of allies. Instead they were the deep gruff voices they had been hearing quite often from the mouths of bandits.

    “I knew it!” Ike quietly snarled when the group finally spotted who the voices belonged to.

    “Blast it… They did follow us here after all,” Azura realized. “Are we ever going to be rid of these goons for good?”

    “I can’t say,” Ike admitted distantly. “…Hold on, listen. They’re talking again.”

    With that, everyone eavesdropped into the bandits’ conversation while staying hidden behind the trees. A few of the bandits were standing around in the middle of a large clearing in silence while another was talking to who appeared to be the group’s leader. As usual, the bandits carried axes, but there was no telling if others who used different weapons were hiding elsewhere in the woods. Despite this, the words coming from the bandits were what the group had to be most concerned about.

    “Argh! Ya better not be wastin’ my time, ya whelp!” the leader sneered at his underling.

    “But the girl an’ her lackies had to’ve gone here!” the bandit protested. “With the Red Claw all over the south an’ mountains, they got no other choice.”

    “Then why do I see no girl?”

    “I dunno!”

    “Bah. We’re gonna stick around ‘ere anyway an’ wait fer the other boys who’re takin’ the east,” the leader decided. “Who knows, maybe the girl’ll show ‘er face. She obviously ain’t goin’ nowhere else.”

    “Har har! I’ll be lookin’ forwerd to it!”

    On that note, the conversation ended. Everyone remained silent for the next few moments, however, analyzing what they had just heard. Azura was the first to speak up several seconds later.

    “So they’ve been setting a trap here,” she realized.

    “Yeah, too bad it’s not going to work,” Ike replied. “Still, I wonder what they meant by ‘taking over the east.”

    “So do I, but now’s not the time,” Ranulf pointed out. “We need to decide what we’re going to do about baldy over there.” He had taken note of the bandit leader’s partially balding head.

    “True. We could launch a surprise attack, but considering how few men they have here in the clearing, they’re likely to have more waiting in ambush,” Azura said. “Any ideas, Ike?”

    “Hmm…” Ike brainstormed. “What would Soren say…”

    “Ah, his strategies always work,” Ranulf remembered.

    “Oh, you mean that one friend of yours who used wind magic?” Azura inquired.

    “Exactly,” Ike confirmed. “…Ah! I’ve got it. This area doesn’t appear to be easily navigated, am I not correct?”

    “Yep, Ike is turning into our very own Soren!” Ranulf joked upon Ike’s tone, which did indeed sound something like Soren’s. “All you have to do now is grow your hair out, dye it a very dark green, and act even ruder!”

    “…Ranulf, just shut up and listen,” a glaring Ike demanded. “Anyway, the forest looks thicker and darker near here, so the bandits could not have stationed hidden men very far, otherwise they’d likely get lost.”

    “Hmm…good point,” Azura concurred.

    “So, I suggest a majority of our group split up and surround the clearing as best as they can, wiping out any hidden enemies as quietly as possible,” Ike continued. “Meanwhile, the remainder will pretend to launch a surprise attack on the few men standing directly in the clearing and distract them from the rest of the action.”

    “Ike, I’ve gotta hand it to you. You’re getting good at this,” Ranulf complimented.

    “Why thank you, but I’m not finished yet,” Ike responded, then continued. “Our diversionary party will be myself, Azura, and Elincia. Azura and I are the bait since I have the pendant and she’s the target. Elincia, it’ll simply help to have an extra sword around, plus I know you’re still rather new to fighting in woods.”

    “Unfortunately. But I’ll do my best,” Elincia assured him.

    “Leona and Skye, seeing as you two are the most vulnerable in this fight, I’d like you to avoid direct combat,” Ike continued. “However, if you have a javelin or some other weapon that can attack from a distance, Leona, I have an alternative.”

    “Well, you’re in luck. It just so happens that I bought a spear in Narcoss,” Leona replied with a smile.

    “Ah, even better. Then, you and Skye stay hidden and give our foe some surprise strikes if you find any bandits we can’t see,” Ike suggested.

    “Understood,” Leona complied.

    “You can count on my arrows,” Skye promised.

    “As for you, Ranulf, as well as Marc and Morris, you circle the area and cut down any baddies you see,” Ike finished. “Ranulf, your speed will be good for this. Marc, axes are strong. Use the best one you’ve got. Morris, your heavy armor should be good defense against these guys, with your sword topping off the advantage. Put those to good use. Just beware of hammers.”

    “You got it, Ike,” Morris replied with assurance. “I’ll surely show them true fighting prowess!”

    “You can count me in too,” Marc seconded.

    “And I’ll certainly do my part!” Ranulf stepped in.

    “Excellent. It’s dark in some areas here, plus it’s getting close to dusk, so this won’t be an easy fight. We have no way if these guys are used to fighting at night, but we can’t take that risk anyway, so we have to make this quick. Now let’s put this strategy into action!” Ike declared with a smile.

    With that, everyone broke up and headed in the proper directions. Leona and Skye headed left while Marc, Morris, and Ranulf began to spread themselves throughout the opposite direction. Ike, followed by Azura and Elincia, quietly stepped into the clearing, but remained in shadows of the mighty trees to prepare for their “surprise assault” on the bandits. Still unaware of the presence of any of their assailants, the bandits themselves still aimlessly wandered through the clearing, looking bored and ill-prepared for any tough battles they could face. Or rather, which they would face.

    Ike motioned Azura and Elincia to wait for his signal before jumping into action. Azura was to go first, since the bandits were looking for her and her appearance would arrest their attention, and then Ike and Elincia would soon follow. After the next few moments, Ike gave the signal, and Azura began to make her move. She instantly bolted into plain site, startling the bandits right away, sword in hand.

    “Hey, meatheads! Looking for me?” Azura shouted at them to get their attention.

    “You!” the bandit who had been conversing with the leader earlier exclaimed. “See, boss, I told ya she’d be here!”

    “But she’s alone…” the leader pointed out, a meager step above his underlings in intellect. “That ain’t right.”

    “Doesn’t matter. You’re still dead meat!” Azura claimed.

    “Are we? We know more than ya think, lassie,” the first bandit retorted.

    “Ya dope! Don’t tell ‘er!” the leader snapped.

    “Oh yeah…”

    “I wouldn’t care if you maniacs were the most intelligent creatures to walk this land,” Azura replied. “I will not lose to the likes of you.”

    “Ain’t that cute?” the leader asked sarcastically.

    “Oh, it’s cute alright,” Azura assured. She then secretly pointed a thumbs-up in the direction of Ike and Elincia, signaling their move. They instantly bolted into the light on either side of Azura, drawing their swords in preparation for any combat that arose.

    “That is, if you’re referring to us,” Azura finished.

    “Aw, no way! We’ve been duped!” the leader exclaimed, a shocked look on his face. “The girl ain’t alone after all!”

    “Honestly, did you really think I’d be that stupid?” Azura retorted with a laugh.

    “Errg…that does it! Come on out, boys! Let’s show ‘em we got stuff up our sleeves too!” the leader commanded. However, nothing happened except for a temporary silence. It was a silence so quiet; it was like tumbleweed careening across the desert on the wind. The leader’s shock only grew more acute as he aimlessly looked to his left, then right, only to see his expected reinforcements fail to appear as planned. The few other bandits had also grown quite confused, and more than a little alarmed, at the predicament they’d found themselves in. Ike, Azura, and Elincia simply exchanged happy glances with one another, with Ike raising a hand as another signal. Seconds later, Marc, Ranulf, Morris, Leona, and Skye emerged from behind the trees surrounding the clearing on all sides.

    “What the—?! What’s goin’ on ‘ere?!” the leader screeched in barely restrained panic, looking at the surrounding warriors.

    “Well, well,” Ranulf replied. “Sorry to spoil your parade, but we felt like going after more, let’s say, hidden prey.”

    “Argh! They musta sniffed out our whole trap, boss!” the first bandit realized with dismay.

    “That they did, matey,” the leader admitted. “But don’t forget. We have a whole couple dozen er so reinforcements waitin’ by the ruins, just as a sweet lil’ back up plan!”

    “Ohhh, yeah!”

    “…Now I did not see that coming,” Ike admitted, now wide-eyed with disbelief.

    “More ruins?” Azura wondered aloud.

    “Catch us if ya can, suckers!” the leader shouted, then motioned the remainder of his men to follow him. They bolted off into the darkened woods ahead, which would only grow darker as the sun set.

    “Well, what choice do we have?” Azura inquired rhetorically. “We must give chase!”

    “We almost had them too…” Ike groused. “Damn it! My best strategy yet, thrown out the window!”

    “Ugh, Ike, save it for later…” Azura annoyingly retorted.

    “Right, of course. Sorry.”

    Unbeknownst to Ike, Azura, and the rest of their party, who were now following to hunt down the fleeing bandits through the forest, another pair of figures had hidden themselves behind the trees. They were positioned slightly farther back from where Ranulf and his team had made their secret assaults from the clearing. One of these two was a teenage lavender haired girl in a purple cloak. Accompanying her was an older girl with shoulder length purple hair and carrying a healing staff. They had been observing the events before them the entire time Azura and company had been conversing with the bandits. The younger girl was the first to speak about it.

    “Raela! Did you see that?” she blurted, unable to keep the shock out of her voice.

    “I did. Quite unusual,” Raela replied, cupping her chin meditatively. “That was the girl we heard the Red Claw speaking of back at home. Remember, Lily?”

    “I thought so!” Lily exclaimed, recalling the event Raela just mentioned. “This is bad. We should go investigate. We can’t just wander here forever!”

    “I agree we need to get out as soon as possible, but we mustn’t stick our noses in places they don’t belong.”

    “But sister!” Lily protested, very nearly bouncing up and down with eagerness. “The girl and her group have no healer! Or mages! And we still have a score to settle with those bandits!”

    “That’s true, but did you hear them say how many reinforcements they had waiting? It’s too dangerous for us.”

    “Yes, but…if I don’t fight, how is my magic going to get stronger?”

    “I know you want training, but we can’t just jump right in,” Raela reasoned. “I’ll tell you what, though. We’ll follow in the same direction and see how the battle plays out. If the girl and her group appear to be struggling, we’ll aid them. If they handle it on their own, we’ll wait until the battle is over and then ask if they can help us escape from this maze.”

    “Sounds good to me,” Lily agreed, grinning widely. “C’mon, let’s go!”

  12. #12
    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    And now for chapter 11. :D


    Chapter 11: Friend and Foe


    Beyond the swath of mountains that clove Talgria in half and just east of a winding river laid the city of Aracion. The great city itself was bustling with business and activity. Everywhere one would look, citizens were going about their daily lives and routines. At least, that’s how it would look during the day time. As the sun had sunk deeper and deeper below the horizon, the streets of Aracion grew quieter with every passing minute as the chill of evening set in. The only sounds anyone would hear were the footfalls and hushed conversations of patrolling soldiers. Due to the attacks by the Red Claw, security had been tightened within the city limits. In the northern section of the city stood the grandest building in the entire nation: Castle Talgria.

    Within the castle’s immaculately carved stone walls and opulent, well guarded chambers was where a veritable flashpoint of tension and concern over a crisis rivaling the clash between the beorc and laguz of Altarais so long ago. Wencelis, Talgria’s devoted king, paced restlessly up and down the expansive chamber wondering if the information he’d gathered, as well as the actions he has ordered the Talgrian soldiers to take, would prove effective in preventing his fears of Talgria’s peril from coming to pass. Accompanying him in the throne room was one of his retainers, a somewhat lightly armored woman carrying a lance. Long magenta hair flowed behind her in at least a few braids. After noticing a rather distressed look on Wencelis’s face, she decided to speak up.

    “Dear brother, does something trouble you?” the woman inquired. “Are you unwell?”

    “Oh no, I am fine. Thank you, Louise,” Wencelis replied, hoping it sounded more convincing than it felt. “However, I do pray that Leyon returns with good news.”

    “Ah yes, so do I,” Louise agreed. “We’re already in quite a predicament as it is. If the information about the Red Claw’s intent is correct, there’s no telling what will happen if they were to succeed.”

    “And that’s my main concern,” Wencelis added. “The girl named Azura must come here as soon as possible. Yet, I fear she may have already met the Red Claw for herself.”

    “Considering our latest intelligence, that is unfortunately likely,” Louise replied somberly. “Still, the information our agents have gathered suggest that she is a consummate warrior.”

    “Perhaps, but the Red Claw is not the rabble of bandits it once was,” Wencelis pointed out. “If they truly have become as numerous and intelligent as rumored, the girl could fall victim easier than she anticipates.”

    “Hmm…I do say you make a good point,” Louise conceded. “The last series of raids by the Red Claw showed coordination previously unheard-of for bandits. I’m still at a loss as to how this has been achieved, usually the bandits around here are attacking each other more than us.”

    “It is disturbing…” Wencelis intoned, mostly to himself.

    Before either of the two could say anything else, the throne room doors suddenly opened. In walked a man with burnt orange hair, garbed in red armor almost as dark as the night sky. He carried with him an axe that looked nothing like the ordinary iron, steel, or even silver axes found on the weapons market. It was a double bladed axe that was possibly light enough to function like a hand axe. The man approached Wencelis and Louise as soon as he’d stepped into the room.

    “Leyon, there you are,” Wencelis greeted, eager for news. “I was beginning to get a little worried.”

    “My apologies, your majesty,” Leyon replied. “I’m afraid things took longer than expected, but I do bring you news.”

    “Oh? Good or bad?” Wencelis inquired, silently praying for the former.

    “Both, actually. The good news is that we were able to prevent the Red Claw from moving further west. We still control the territory on this side of the mountain range.”

    “Ah, excellent,” Wencelis complimented. “Leyon, you’d do well to ensure that it stays that way.”

    “Of course, your majesty,” Leyon promised. “I’ve also noticed that we haven’t been getting as many complaints of bandit activity in the east as we did before. Our soldiers must finally be turning the tides there as well.”

    “Thank the goddess…” Wencelis whispered with relief. “Now I feel a little better about the safety of the girl we’re looking for.”

    “And the bad news?” Louise inquired.

    “Ah, hello, Lady Louise,” Leyon greeted, his expression turning grave. “As for the bad news, General William reported to me that he has not heard from Bryan or his platoon since they departed for Galden. They seem to have disappeared. Furthermore, I noticed two of my knights have also failed to report as scheduled.”

    “Blast…” Wencelis snarled, closing his eyes in disappointment. “This is no good. How can an entire platoon just vanish?”

    “‘Tis beyond me,” Leyon admitted, clueless as well. “There have been rumors of defections to the Red Claw but these are hearsay and, beyond that, I can vouch for the loyalty of Bryan and my knights. Knowing Bryan, though, he probably forgot to send word again.”

    “Hmm… While he is a bit unorganized, I doubt that’s the case,” Wencelis disagreed. “Still, whatever the reason, we must search for his group and your knights. Leyon, I entrust you with orders for William. He is to reassign one of the platoons to be the search party.”

    “Understood,” Leyon intoned, saluting and then departing.

    ***


    Bryan had immediately set to work on his new objectives once bidding his farewells to Azura and company at the edge of Narcoss. Although several hours had gone by since then, and the sky was now as dark as ebony, the determined Halberdier didn’t stop his investigation until later in the evening, when the deepening gloom of the night would make further searching impossible. At the moment, Bryan had now come out of the mountains himself in hopes of catching up with his comrades in the forest. Along the way, he sighed, also hoping what he’d done for Ike would suffice, despite it not being exactly what he’d asked for. Before Bryan could reach the next town, however, a voice called out to him in the distance. His walking came to an instant halt upon hearing the familiar yelling.

    “Bryan! Hey, Bryan!” the voice continued to exclaim as Bryan let his gaze follow the voice to the speaker. Upon laying eyes on whoever was calling him, Bryan noticed a fellow Halberdier in blue armor racing towards him as fast as his legs would carry him. Bluish green hair bounced upon his head as he slowed his running to a halt when he approached Bryan. He panted before speaking.

    “Damn…finally…” the man wheezed.

    “Cato!” Bryan exclaimed with surprise. “What are you doing here? I thought you and your men were supposed to be down south somewhere.”

    “We were,” Cato explained once he caught his breath. “But our assignment got changed. General William told us to go look for you.”

    “What?” Bryan blurted. “Why?”

    “Idiot!” Cato chastised. “The General’s worried about you! He hasn’t gotten any news from your platoon in days!”

    “Oh…yeah…” Bryan muttered nervously, a slight feeling of embarrassment now coming over him. “But I can explain.”

    “You’d better,” Cato warned. “I’m pooped from having to hunt you down. We’ve been looking for over two hours. And even as we speak, my men are still scattered about looking for yours.”

    “Geez… I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to worry anyone,” Bryan apologized. “After we finished our mission in Galden, something came up that made us decide to return to Aracion instead.”

    “So why are you here instead of there, then?” Cato inquired a little hotly.

    “The route through Narcoss was blocked by a landslide,” Bryan explained. “The routes down south were controlled by the Red Claw. I couldn’t send anyone anywhere through those mountains, even if I wanted to.”

    “Oh. Blast… The General’s not going to like this,” Cato replied with concern. “Ah well, at least you’re doing your job right for a change.”
    “Oh gee, thanks,” Bryan sarcastically returned, an annoyed look on his face.

    “Don’t give me that. You know very well you used to forget to report to the General every now and then, not to mention lose track of a soldier or two,” Cato retorted. “Sometimes I wonder why you’re even a platoon captain.”

    “Well, you know very well that I’m the most skilled soldier in that platoon, smartass,” Bryan countered. “Anyway, this time, a new and improved Captain Bryan is on the case. He just so happens to have found the girl his majesty is looking for.”

    “What?!” Cato exclaimed, his mirth obliterated. “You? No way.”

    “Yes, me.”

    “You better not be lying to me, Bryan!”

    “Believe it or not, it’s the truth. I’ve already sent my men ahead to the next town to stock up on supplies before we head to the forest,” Bryan replied.

    “You mean the girl has fled that way?” Cato inquired, incredulity dawning on his face. “Why’d you let her go, you numbskull?!”

    “Well for your information, wise guy, I’m going to rejoin her,” Bryan pointed out, abruptly realizing that his explanation might not satisfy his comrade. “I needed to do some personal research.”

    “But she’s just a girl! She can’t possibly defend herself on her own!”

    “Relax, Cato,” Bryan urged, idly wondering if Skye and Kye had feuds like these. “She has allies with her. And, I’ve seen her in action; she is a competent warrior.”

    “Then good. I’ll go let the messenger know to tell the General,” Cato replied. “Gosh, it’s a good thing we were able to enlist hawk laguz as messengers.”

    “Agreed,” Bryan replied. “Just tell him my men and I are fine and the mission was successful. I’d rather keep the girl a secret for now. If something were to come up and further delay our arrival in Aracion, it’d only worry his majesty more than he already is.”

    “If you insist. …And since when did you have a Brave Lance?” Cato demanded, finally noticing the weapon Bryan was carrying in his hand.

    “Since my father left it for me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be going,” Bryan answered, racing off before Cato could get in the last word.

    “Sigh… He improves, but still gets the best stuff…” Cato groused.

    ***


    The night sky was alit with thousands of stars by the time Azura and company had finally begun to catch up to the bandits they were pursuing. Whatever ruins they had been talking about had also triggered a strange reaction out of Morris, who had not been talking much beforehand. All of a sudden, he seemed to have an urge to teach the Red Claw a lesson for their previous behavior, a look of barely controlled rage painting his face. Did he know something about these ruins? Had he also been to the forest in the past like Marc had? If so, the reason why he never brought it up baffled Azura as well as Ike. What they didn’t know was that they’d soon find out the cause of Morris’s sudden change in behavior. They finally reached another clearing after trampling through what seemed like pitch black forest.

    Within the clearing stood at least a dozen more bandits, just like the leader from before had said. Along with these new ruffians, however, there sat masses of stone debris, some in odd shapes with vaguely discernable symbols while others were squarer. In the near center of the clearing sat what looked like the remains of a building. This clearing was significantly larger than the last one and had been brightened up by the moon and stars shining overhead. Once Morris had laid eyes upon the sites before Azura and the others, face contorted in a mask of disbelief, horror and transcendent rage. He grimaced before speaking up.

    “No! This can’t be!” Morris shouted in anger. “The Shrine of Hope!”

    “Whoa… What on earth has gotten into him?” Skye wondered. “And what is he talking about?”

    “I honestly have no idea…” Ike replied, just as confused.

    “Geh hehe! So ya recognize this pile of rock, do ya?” the leader cackled. “Well, it ain’t gonna do ya much good now. This old hunk was useless an’ took up way too much space. So we did ourselves a favor an’ tore it down!”

    The light of rage in Morris’ eyes built up to such intensity that, from a distance, they could be mistake for Elfire tomes seeing vigorous use.

    “You filthy curs! How dare you destroy what my family helped to create?” he exclaimed deafeningly. “That shrine was in memory of the beorc and laguz who made peace here!”

    “Like we care? We’re just here for the girl an’ her pendant,” the leader retorted.

    “I care not for why you’re here!” Morris intoned in deadly earnest. “You have defiled a monument to the Oathsworn which had my family’s blood in the stonework. You have just signed your own death warrants, not one of you will be spared.”

    Without another thought, he charged into the clearing and began assaulting the bandit reinforcements, stabbing them one by one with his sword.

    “Holy… I’ve never seen Morris like this before,” Skye admitted. “Honest.”

    “Well, we can’t just stand here!” Azura pointed out, great concern in her voice. “Let’s go help before he gets himself killed!”

    “Yeah, we’ll have him explain what this is all about later,” Ike added.

    With that, the rest of the group followed Morris’s example and joined the battle. At first glance, their competition looked like every other group of bandits they’d fought. A majority of them carried axes, thus giving Azura and company a clear advantage. However, they soon found that this group would not be a repeat of past battles. Ike soon spotted weapons that he had not seen in quite some time, not since he left Tellius. His eyes widened with shock as he came to a freezing halt in his tracks upon noticing the unmistakable discoloration on the blades of each and every axe.

    “Ah! Blast! They have Venin Axes this time!” Ike exclaimed.

    “W-What are those?” Azura worriedly wondered.

    “Not weapons you want to face, that’s for sure,” Marc replied. “If a venin weapon were to so much as touch you at all, you’d be slightly poisoned and steadily lose strength.”

    “Oh… That would be terrible for us,” Azura deduced. “Is there any way to heal yourself if you were to get hit by one?”

    “Thankfully, yes,” Marc confirmed. “An antitoxin is needed. There’s also a staff that can do it, but I’m afraid I don’t recall the name of it.”

    “Well, we don’t have anyone that can use staves, so antitoxins will have to do,” Azura replied. “…Huh?”

    Just after Azura had been speaking, a pinging noise sounded forth throughout the area.

    “…Argh!” Morris’s voice cried in pain from halfway across the clearing. However, he did not appear to have a single injury on him. That only meant one other thing. The pinging noise was the sound of a weapon striking his armor. Although he wasn’t hurt, Morris did not look well at all.

    “Morris!” Azura called. “Are you al—Oh!”

    Before she could finish her sentence, Azura realized what had happened when she saw the weapon carried by Morris’s attacker, who was still standing right in front of him. Morris managed to strike him down due to the advantage he had with a sword, but he soon began to show signs of fatigue.

    “Blast! He’s been hit!” Ike realized. “For the love of the goddess, why did I not think of buying antitoxins?”

    “No idea, Ike, but we’ll have to help Morris later,” Azura replied. “We’ve got bigger problems right now.”

    Although Ike knew she was right, he still felt foolish for not even considering the possibility of needing an antitoxin later on. Nonetheless, he continued battling anyway, hoping the group could finish before Morris became too weak to fight, or worse, the poison cut short his life. Beyond the battle, however, deep in the trees surrounding the clearing, Raela and Lily had finally managed to spot the battle they were pursuing in hopes of asking for help once it subsided. The sisters carefully hid themselves behind the copse of trees nearest to the battle in order to get the best view possible. Raela was the first to break the silence.

    “We finally found them…” she whispered with relief. “Oh how I hope these warriors can help us.”

    “I hear you, sis,” Lily seconded. “It doesn’t appear that they’ve been battling long though, seeing as there’s still a bunch of baddies running around.”

    “Yes. We will wait and see what happens, like I said before,” Raela promised.

    “I don’t want to call them weak, but I do wish to fight…” Lily admitted. “…Hey! Just one freaking minute! Raela! Look at the blue haired man with the red cape and green headband! He…he matches the description of that famous mercenary we heard about! What was his name now…oh yeah, Ike!”

    “Why…I believe you’re right,” Raela replied, a tone of shock in her voice. “Could that really be him of all people?”

    “It has to be! Oh lucky day!” Lily cried with joy, which somehow went unheard by the combatants. “He’d be able to help us for sure!”

    “I doubt he knows his way around this forest…” Raela contradicted. “But considering how powerfully strong the stories say he is, I don’t doubt he’d be able to teach the Red Claw a lesson.”

    “And find Father. Don’t forget that,” Lily pointed out.

    “As much as I wish that were true, I don’t think having Ike help with that would do much good,” Raela replied with disappointment. “Father could be anywhere in the whole continent and we have no clues.”

    “But, it wouldn’t hurt to try, right?” Lily entreated desperately. “I mean, with Mother and the others killed in the attack, he’s all we have left…”

    “True…” Raela admitted. “But, I’d be surprised if we ever see him again.”

    By the time Raela and Lily had finished their conversation, the battle had finally turned in favor of Azura’s group. They now had the bandits outnumbered, despite Morris’s flagging strength. He attempted to continue fighting and bringing down the enemy as quickly as possible before he ended up collapsing, and seemed to slay half of the bandits single handedly, but with the venom in his system he could only push himself so far. The remaining bandits began to fall back towards the edges of the clearing and into the woods. Azura, with no realization, gave chase to two of them through the trees, gradually separating from her comrades. Unfortunately, she was nearly long gone before Ike or anyone else noticed her absence. Ike scrutinized his surroundings once the bandits seemed routed, and did not like what he saw.

    “Hey! Hold on, everyone! We’re missing someone again!” Ike reported, getting the attention of the others.

    “What? Who?” Elincia wondered, raising one eyebrow.

    “…Azura!” Ike realized.

    “What?” Skye exclaimed, both anger and concern in his voice. “Argh! Not now!”

    “Ugh…” Morris groaned. The poison from the venin axe had by now taken a massive toll on his strength. “I’m sorry… This is my fault… I…I shouldn’t have…been so reckless…”

    “Oh for heaven’s sake. Pull yourself together, Morris,” Skye ordered. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”

    “But…”

    “Morris!”

    “Alright, fine…”

    “I don’t care whose fault it is, we need to find her!” Ike ordered. “Let’s go! Morris, you stick with me. You’ll need protection. The rest of you split up and try meet back here!”

    “A-Alright,” Elincia replied. “Ranulf, can we team up? I’d rather not wander around here alone.”

    “I see no problem with that,” Ranulf agreed, smiling. “As a cat, I can see well in the dark, so with an extra pair of eyes, we should do well. Let’s go.”

    “Then Marc, Skye, and I will go elsewhere,” Leona decided. “I agree, it is better to have at least one ally with you in the dark.”

    “Right,” Ranulf replied.

    Once the group broke apart, the search for Azura began. Much to Raela and Lily’s displeasure, Ike and Morris hurriedly started out of the clearing before they could get a chance to talk to anyone. Thinking that if they didn’t catch them now, they would have a difficult time finding anyone again, the sisters immediately darted after the blue-haired mercenary and his companion as quickly as their feet would carry them. Raela spoke up as soon as she thought she’d come close enough for either Ike or Morris to hear her.

    “Hey! Excuse me! May we talk to you for a minute?” Raela hollered, hoping to grab the pair’s attention.

    “Hm?” Ike replied, turning around to see two feminine silhouettes following him. “Who’s there?”

    “Oh, we’re no one you need to fear,” Raela replied in the friendliest voice she could use.

    “Then who are you?” Ike inquired, raising one eyebrow.

    Within the next few seconds, Raela and Lily had both come into plain view.

    “Hey! Sir Ike really is as handsome as the other girls say he is!” Lily exclaimed. “Hee hee!”

    “Oh great…” Ike mumbled under his breath,seriously considering rejecting whatever entreaty was forthcoming.

    “Lily, this is no time to flirt,” Raela scolded. “Anyway, you are Sir Ike, right?”

    “Yeah. Why?” Ike wondered. “And before either of you say anything more on the matter, I have a girlfriend.”

    “Aw, don’t worry,” Lily replied with a giggle. “I was only having a little fun. Still, you wouldn’t believe how many young women I’ve seen swoon over you!”

    “Lily, I said shut it!” Raela reprimanded. “As I was saying, we’re ever so relieved to find you here.”

    “Yeah, yeah, I know. You’ve heard about me and my deeds,” Ike interjected, folding his arms.

    “Oh, no no, it’s not that,” Raela denied. “My name’s Raela. My sister and I have been lost in this forest for days and we figured you and your companions could somehow help us get out.”

    “Huh. Well, I’m sorry to say that none of us know our way around here,” Ike replied. “Although, there is safety in numbers.”

    “Yes, exactly. May we go with you? I can heal your friend here, plus we noticed that you don’t have any healers or mages. My sister’s fire magic may come in handy,” Raela pleaded. “Please? I feel we’d all have a better chance of surviving here if we work together.”

    “I don’t doubt that’s true, so I guess you can stick with us for now. However, we’re kind of in a hurry right now, so try to keep up,” Ike warned.

    “Oh, of course. We’ve been watching you since you fooled those bandits back there, so we know you’re trying to find a missing companion,” Raela replied. “We’ll even help you look.”

    “Ah, excellent then. Let’s get started.”

    ***


    Meanwhile, Azura had gained up on her targets only to realize too late that she’d strayed away from her allies. Since her only choice after disposing her opponents was to track the group down, she decided to be done with the bandits as quickly as possible. Dang it, Azura, chasing them was a stupid decision! Azura yelled at herself in her mind. You need to pay more attention next time. With that, she immediately launched her attack on her foes, whom were just a stone’s throw ahead of her. However, fighting two bandits alone did not seem a favorable prospect on Azura’s part, despite having no choice but to fight. As she made clean direct hits on her first opponent, taking him down as a result, she soon felt a sharp blade slice right into her left upper arm. Luckily for her, the young mercenary was able to counter with a critical strike on the second opponent, although she had been severely injured.

    “Auggh…” Azura groaned, the pain more intense than any she’d ever felt before. “Why did I ever…do this?”

    She attempted to continue looking for her comrades, but her efforts were nigh futile. Though the blow from the axe hadn’t taken her arm off, the pain was overpowering. Finding she could barely move around at all due to being weakened, Azura slowly trudged through the dark forest, not giving up despite the fact that she could neither see nor walk well at all. Hoping she would be reunited with her allies soon, Azura endured the pain in her arm, thankful it hadn’t been her sword arm to take the blow. Not that this was much of a comfort, all she had to staunch the wound with was her sword hand. However, as suddenly as she’d begun her search, Azura had unknowingly come to the top of a slope and lost her footing due to the slanted land. She tumbled down the hill, her injured arm taking some of the burden, not at all knowing how far she’d roll. The situation did not get better as Azura landed head first in a knee-deep stream whose bed turned out to be rocky enough to knock the mercenary out cold.
    As she lay there motionless, Azura’s blood trickld from her wound to turn the stream water a pale red. The flow of the water carried the pouring blood into a trail that had moved farther and farther from Azura with every second. Azura herself had slightly stirred minutes later, only to fall unconscious once more within less than a minute due to blood loss as well as fatigue from travel. The last thing she could make out was what sounded like growls and running.

    ***


    By now, Ike, Morris, and their new companions had gone far enough from the clearing to have lost any sense of their whereabouts, or of where Azura or their companions might be, especially in the dark of night. Still, they did not give up on their search for Azura, knowing that she could not have gone very far away in such a short time. Several minutes had passed, but there was still no sign of the missing mercenary, no matter where or how far Ike and company proceeded. They had reached a rather hilly area when Ike and his comrades were startled by a feminine shriek that sounded much like Elincia.

    “Ah! Oh no!” her voice cried out.

    “Oh man. Ike, you’d better come see this!” Ranulf added, his voice sounding almost frightened.

    “What? Did you find her?” Ike inquired, immediately turning to head in the direction the voices were coming from.

    “No! Worse!” Ranulf replied.

    Ike’s worried expression quickly turned to a shocked one when he and his group arrived in the presence of Ranulf and Elincia. There, cutting a calmly flowing stream in half was a long trail of pale red, bloody water. More blood had appeared to trail off down another forest path. Neither Raela nor Lily could speak upon laying eyes on the sight while Morris simply let his mouth fall open.

    “Blast…” Ike finally whispered, his eyes still wide. “This is bad.”

    “Oh, more than bad. This is Azura’s blood. I can smell her scent on it,” Ranulf confirmed. “This blood is flowing downstream so she has to be upriver. If we go upstream, the trail should lead us straight to her.”

    “Then that’s what we’ll do,” Ike concurred. “It’s a good thing I let Raela and Lily here join us, or else we’d be in even greater trouble. Raela is a healer.”

    “That is true. I’ll do all I can to help your friend,” Raela promised.

    “Ah, thank you,” Elincia replied. “I just can’t stand to see what’s happened to her for even a second.”

    “Alright then, let’s go,” Ike decided. “We can’t waste any time. Ranulf, you go find the rest of our group since you’re the one with the best eyes in this darkness. We’ll try to meet up later.”

    “Consider it done!” Ranulf agreed. He instantly transformed into his cat form and sped off. With that, Ike and company resumed their search for Azura, this time following the river whose red tinge was barely visible on the dark ground. However, Azura still did not appear in their line of sight. Instead, several minutes later, faint silhouettes suddenly appeared between the trees ahead of the group. From what Ike could make out, they seemed to be traveling on four legs. Motioning the others to follow him, the group began to run towards the figures and finally closed in on them near another forest clearing brightened by the moonlight.

    Now that he had a clear look at what he had been pursuing, Ike once again let his expression become shocked at what he saw. A group of wolf laguz were scattered about the clearing, two of them appearing different than the others. A majority of the wolf group included iron gray wolves. One of the pair of outcasts was a purple wolf wearing a ribbon in one ear. The other was a dark red wolf with a more masculine appearance. Atop the red wolf’s back was none other than Azura, her left arm stained red with blood. As Ike looked from Azura to the two different colored wolves, a new realization came to his mind.

    “Hold on… I think I know those wolves!” he finally spoke quietly in surprise, hesitant about revealing their presence too early.

    “Ike, you’re not saying…?” Elincia inquired, also noticing the familiarity of the wolves’ appearance.

    “I certainly am,” Ike confirmed. “Kiel! Sara! Is…Is that you?”

    “Huh?” the red wolf blurted in response, turning in the direction of the voice he had just heard. He and the purple wolf instantly changed form, making sure to keep Azura upon the red wolf’s back in the process. The red wolf laguz’s new form revealed short, slightly spiky red hair, part of which covered his right eye. Hanging from his neck and sitting upon his bare chest was a dragon’s teeth necklace while dark red pants and gray boots were his only clothing. His dark red wolf tail and wolf ears remained on his body. The female wolf laguz’s human form was shorter, had shoulder length unruly magenta hair, purple wolf ears and tail, and a simple light purple outfit that included a light purple belly shirt with a black neck strap and simple blue shorts. Both wolf laguz had dark markings lining their arms. The female also wore them on her legs.

    “It is you two!” Ike exclaimed, relieved. “Don’t you remember us?” He motioned towards Elincia.

    “Hey… Wait a second. Green headband, red cape, blue hair...” Kiel analyzed, and then shook his head in amazement. “Well I’ll be darned! It’s Ike!”

    “Ike? Really?” Sara added, looking closely at Ike. “…And Elincia too! Wow! I don’t believe it! You’ve both changed so much since we last saw you!”

    “Heh, yeah well, that happens when three years go by,” Ike replied with a smile.

    “Hang on, you guys know each other?” Morris inquired.

    “Yeah, it’s a long story,” Ike confirmed. “We’ll explain later. Right now we need to thank these two for rescuing Azura.”

    “Oh, so you know this girl too?” Kiel deduced.

    “Yep, that’s another long story,” Ike repeated. “But can you help us out of this forest so we can safely heal her?”

    “Sure, no problem!” Kiel agreed. “We’ve come to know this forest like our own paws, even at night. Just leave the navigating to us!”

    “Excellent,” Ike replied. “Can you find our other companions and help them out too? Two of them are knights on horseback while another is an archer. The last one is a blue cat laguz.”

    “Oh, there are more of you? Don’t worry about a thing,” Kiel agreed and turned to one of his wolf allies. “One of you! Go find those four and lead them to safety! We’ll regroup on the forest outskirts!”

    With that, a wolf obeyed the command and raced off back into the trees.

    “Dang, I don’t know how to thank you,” Ike replied with a sigh of relief. “Let’s hurry. Azura has a serious wound and I’m sick of seeing nothing but trees.”

    “Haha, I don’t blame you,” Sara replied. “Just follow us. We’re not too far from the forest’s Eraghoan edge, so we’ll be out before long. Let’s be off!”

    “You don’t have to tell us twice,” Ike agreed.

    With that, the entire group started for their destination, Ike and his companions looking ever so forward to seeing brightened, open fields once again.

  13. #13
    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    I know it hasn't been a day yet, but the last couple of chapters or so that I've posted are fairly short, so I don't see any harm in adding chapter 12 now. :3


    Chapter 12: A Land of Canines


    When Azura first felt a ray of sunlight boring into her closed eyes, the only response had been a groan that sounded suspiciously like ‘I don’t wanna go to school.’ Her hands blindly groped for the covers to pull over her head but instead found a band of gauze caked with dried blood. Her vision was blurry at first, but once her surroundings had become clear, the young mercenary found herself lying upon a soft bed which sat inside a fairly small room. Directly in front of Azura’s bed was a window through which she could see the sun just above the horizon, signaling the light of dawn. Surrounding Azura’s bed on all sides were walls of massive blocks of stone that appeared to be aged with the exception of an old wooden door to the left. The only other pieces of furniture the room contained were a small end table sitting to the bed’s right and a chair right across from the door. Before Azura could attempt to figure out for herself where she was, the door of the room quietly opened to reveal Ike, followed by Kiel and Sara.

    “Ohhh…” Azura muttered. “Ike?”

    “Hey, I think she’s awake!” Kiel chimed in.

    “Huh? Where am I?” a still fatigued Azura wondered as she slowly began to sit up. “…Hey, my arm! How did it get healed?”

    “Ah, good morning, Azura,” Ike replied. “Glad to see you’re up. We found a healer named Raela and a mage named Lily lost in the forest and they offered to help. As for where we’re at, this is Fort Bering, an old base of the wolf laguz.”

    “But how did we get here? And who are those wolves standing near you?” Azura questioned, having no clue what had been happening.

    “Ah right. These two happen to be old friends of mine,” Ike continued. “Kiel and Sara helped my men defeat the wolves who attempted to take over Daein and invade Crimea a month after the Mad King’s War ended. They found us and led us here to take a rest and let you recover. Don’t worry, we’ve explained our situation to them and I can vouch for their trustworthiness.”

    “Ah. Thank you ever so much,” Azura replied. “So you two were the ones who helped Ike in that battle? I heard about it from Elincia.”

    “We sure were. It was chaotic,” Kiel described. “And confusing. Ike almost thought we were tricking him, actually. But no way would my sister and I ever do such a thing, especially to him of all people.”

    “Well, it wasn’t my fault your old king made it look like you were pretending to be allies,” Ike chuckled. “And, he even had a wolf attack Elincia just to make sure I’d come after him. That made me mad.”

    “True, he did do that,” Sara added. “Deceitful dog.”

    “You really hated him that much?” Ike wondered with curiosity.

    “Heck yeah!” Kiel fumed. “The fact that he was trying to deliberately take over weakened countries disgusted us! Not to mention he had always been dishonest and egotistical. No way did we want to serve him! We were glad you taught him a lesson!”

    “I’m pleased to hear that, but what did your brethren think of all this?” Ike pondered. “I’m also wondering if your clan had any connection with Queen Nailah of Hatari and her servant Volug. I met them during other Tellius conflicts that ended mere months ago.”

    “Well…” Sara began, sounding a touch nervous. “How to put this…”

    Before anyone could speak again, the door was flung open once more. Elincia emerged through the doorway, along with Raela and Lily. Because Azura had never seen them before, she instantly moved her gaze to the two sisters before doing anything else, almost forgetting what Sara was about to say. Elincia’s attention went to the young mercenary first thing and spoke first.

    “Oh, thank goodness you’re awake!” she gushed, relieved. “I had hoped you were only sleeping when you didn’t wake last night.”

    “Yeah, I’m alright,” Azura assured. “You two must be that healer and mage Ike told me about. Raela and Lily was it?”

    “Yep, that’s us!” Lily replied with a somewhat ecstatic smile. “My sister did a good job healing you, didn’t she?”

    “Oh yes, I feel great,” Azura smiled. “Thank you, Raela.”

    “Not a problem, Azura,” Raela replied, returning the smile. “I’m glad to help. This room is getting a bit crowded though, so if you need anything, Lily and I will be outside practicing. We just wanted to check up on you.”

    “Alright then,” Azura agreed. With that, Raela and Lily departed once more through the door, triggering a silence in the room.

    “…So, you were saying, Sara?” Ike inquired, breaking the sudden silence.

    “Ah, yes…hmm…” Sara murmured, still reluctant to speak.

    “What’s wrong?” Ike inquired with concern.

    “It’s really complicated,” Kiel explained. “Not a tale we particularly enjoy telling either, but I think you ought to know.”

    “…Yeah, I apologize,” Sara seconded. “See, we were once part of Hatari. Queen Nailah was a good and kind ruler. But she…banished us.”

    “Banished you?” Ike blurted with shock. “Now why in Tellius would Nailah ever do a thing like that? She did not seem like that kind of ruler at all.”
    “I didn’t know her well, but even I can agree with that,” Elincia agreed.

    “That’s the complicated part,” Kiel replied. He and Sara began their story by saying that the main reason was in fact their old king. Arius, the wolf king whom Ike had defeated in what had become known as the Battle of the Beast, wasn’t a king at the time it happened, rather a high ranking military officer, but he sought to overthrow Nailah and seat himself on Hatari’s throne. At first he wasn’t much of a threat due to a lack of supporters. However, over time, he had somehow convinced almost half the nation that he would make a better ruler. In no time at all, Arius had launched attacks upon Nailah and the remaining Hatarians. Kiel and Sara, intending to help the queen, rushed into one of the battles, but had mistakenly entered on the wrong side of the battle site. As a result, Nailah thought they were on Arius’s side and had her men attack them as well.

    The fighting went on for well over a month. Although Arius continued to fight, he did not prove to be strong enough to take Nailah down and was utterly defeated. Although Nailah spared him because he was still a fellow wolf, she was not merciful. She chose to banish Arius and his supporters, including Kiel and Sara, who had no chance to try convincing her that they were on her side. The downside of the entire conflict on Nailah’s part was that a lot of her own supporters had perished in the battles as well as those of Arius. Others were either captured by Arius’s men or missing in action.

    “That would explain why only she and Volug were left,” Ike realized.

    “Exactly,” Kiel confirmed. “Since we had been banished with Arius’s men, we were forced to work for them. We hated it because every time we tried to escape, they’d beat us and push us around.”

    “Just like the prisoners were,” Sara added. “Ike, my brother and I have a lot of respect for you. If not for you and your fellow Crimeans, we would have never been freed from that dreadful life, nor would we have ever been able to stop Arius. You practically saved our lives. That’s why we wanted to join you.”

    “Yup,” Kiel confirmed.

    “Heh… Well, I’m glad I could help,” Ike replied with a slightly surprised expression, scratching the back of his head.

    “Hee hee. My Ike is so heroic, he saves lives without even knowing it,” Elincia said with a flirty giggle. Ike’s cheeks instantly flushed a deep red.

    “Well, I…uh…” he stammered, growing redder by the minute. “I…guess I am.”

    “Aw Ike, there’s no need to be embarrassed,” Sara laughed.

    “Yeah, although I think Elincia has now established that she likes doing this to me,” Ike pointed out, folding his arms and winking at Elincia.

    “Yet, I am still truthful,” Elincia added with a smile. “I could think of a million reasons why I love you, Ike, and put it in the very way I just did.”

    “So I figured,” Ike countered.

    “Heh, you two are still together, eh?” Kiel guessed.

    “We sure are. Well, sort of anyway,” Ike replied. He and Elincia then repeated the story of what forced them to break apart during the years between the Mad King’s War and the recent Tellius conflicts.

    “Wow, that must have been hard,” Sara commented. “It’s good to see that things worked out for you in the end, though.”

    “I agree. Talk about a huge misunderstanding,” Kiel added.

    “Yeah…” Ike agreed. “It definitely was tough.”

    The friendly conversation between the four continued for quite some time. It was to be expected after not having seen old friends for a span of three years. Azura, although she was not able to contribute a whole lot, participated as much as she could to learn more about what had happened in the time between the Mad King’s War and the war against Ashera, as well as about Kiel and Sara.

    When the conversation topic had finally dissolved into that very subject, she, Ike, and Elincia eagerly listened to the two wolves’ next tale. It turned out that not long after saying goodbye to Ike and his army, Kiel and Sara tried to find possible wolf survivors. However, after months of searching and no luck, they finally decided to give up. So they attempted to find Queen Nailah and hope to regain her respect. However, she was nowhere to be seen either. So Kiel and Sara decided to search for a new home.

    “And that’s when we made our way to Begnion, borrowed a ship, and found Altarais,” Kiel concluded. “The funny thing about it is that we landed right in this nation!”

    “Yup, that we did,” Sara confirmed with a laugh. “We left a wolf nation and accidently sailed right into another one.”

    “Borrowed or commandeered?” Ike couldn’t resist asking, a punchy smile crossing his features.

    “Well, to be technical, we wound up keeping the ship,” Kiel admitted. “We came aboard, everyone started screaming, we said ‘we mean no harm, we just want the ship,’ they said ‘you can have it,’ they all jumped overboard and that was that.”

    “Haha, wow! Silly people!” Azura replied, laughing along. “I contributed to Tellius’s knowledge of our continent as well, even if it was only a little. I wanted to find someplace new to hone my sword skills, and the boat I was traveling on had gone off course due to a high wind storm. You can guess where we ended up.”

    “Crimea?” Ike guessed.

    “Indeed, right around the time your conflicts there ended,” Azura confirmed. “I decided to immediately go back and tell Galden about what happened. That’s when I met you, Ike. We were on the same boat going there, didn’t you ever notice?”

    “…Actually, no I didn’t,” Ike admitted. “You must have gotten on and off before me.”

    “Yeah, I did,” Azura confirmed. “You know what’s interesting about that though? Elincia and I were on the same boat my second trip! Haha!”

    “Oh yeah!” Elincia remembered, laughing afterwards. The conversation was brought to an end when Marc and Leona had suddenly barged through the door, breathing heavily. Apparently they had some important news to bring.

    “Hey!” Marc gasped, barely able to speak.

    “Whoa. Marc, Leona, what’s the rush?” Ike inquired worriedly, wondering if the Red Claw had found them yet again.

    “Bryan’s back,” Leona replied.

    “Seriously?” Ike inquired, his confused look turning into a surprised one. “It’s about time. I was starting to get worried.”

    “Yeah, he just arrived,” Marc explained. “And he wants to speak with all of us.”

    “Ah, he must have news then,” Ike figured.

    “Oh, I’m glad he was able to find us!” Azura replied with a sigh of relief. “Let’s go!”

    “Hold on, Azura, are you sure you’re well enough to be getting up?” Ike protested.

    “Yeah, I’m just fine,” Azura assured. “Honest.”

    “…Alright, if you insist,” Ike relented.

    Everyone instantly made their way into the fort’s conference room where Bryan awaited them. The Halberdier was standing near the head of the conference table, lance in hand, apparently introducing himself to Raela and Lily who must’ve been called away from their practice session. Standing nearby them were Skye and Morris. Aside from the conference table and the chairs encircling it, blazing torches hanging from wall sconces dotted the room. Once the entire group, including Kiel and Sara, whom Bryan had not yet met, had gathered near him, Ike did not hesitate to inquire about the Halberdier’s whereabouts and immediately spoke up.

    “Bryan, where have you been? I was beginning to think you might have gotten lost or something.”

    “I apologize, Ike,” Bryan replied with slight shame. “My journey here had been slightly delayed. I also decided to wait until dawn broke to cross the forest.”

    “How did you find out we were here?” Azura wondered.

    “The wolf laguz, of course,” Bryan explained with a smile. “I saw a few of them while wandering the woods and inquired about your location.”
    “So they led you here,” Ike concluded. “Well, you certainly had it easier than we did.”

    “Really?” Bryan replied. “Do these two wolves with you have anything to do with it?”

    “Yeah, they rescued us,” Azura explained. “We got to the forest before dark, but the bandits attacked. We were forced to waste too much time on them.”

    “Azura, why not add that you also chose to recklessly disappear and almost get killed?” Skye pointed out in annoyance. “We’d have probably gotten out sooner if you’d just used your head.”

    “Well gee, I’m sorry I didn’t let the enemy escape, smart mouth,” Azura retorted with sarcasm.

    “Oh give me a break! Two bandits are nothing!” Skye snapped back.

    “Well then, Skye, how would you explain the arrow you accidentally shot into my horse’s butt, causing her injury to slow us down?” Leona countered.

    “What?! I told you a hundred times! I tripped over a tree root!” Skye insisted, putting extra emphasis on his last sentence.

    “Then don’t put an arrow on your bowstring when you’re not fighting!”

    “And become vulnerable to possible ambush?!”

    “Guys, come on now. Chill out,” Marc interrupted. “This wasn’t anyone’s fault.”

    “…Yeah, I think I get the picture now,” Bryan added, raising one eyebrow in confusion. “Anyway, I managed to uncover some important information.”

    “Sigh… I apologize,” Skye replied. “You’re right. So what’s the word on your dad, Bryan?”

    “Oh, all I found out on that matter was that he fled to Astryn,” Bryan replied. “I couldn’t find out anything new about that necklace.”

    “You mean Talgria’s western neighbor?” Azura inquired, to which Bryan nodded in reply. “Huh. I wonder why.”

    “So do I,” Bryan agreed. “But what’s important is what else I found while poking around.”

    “Yeah, go on,” Ike insisted with curiosity.

    “Well, first I went to Ryin to see if he could tell me anything,” Bryan began. He explained that Ryin wasn’t able to give him any information on the whereabouts of his father or the woman called Caline, but he did hear a rumor that many members of the Red Claw are not actually bandits at all, but soldiers disguised as ruffians, probably to give the real bandits some sort of advantage. However, where the so-called “soldiers” were from was unknown. The rumors so far had only been spread through the mountain towns, not just Narcoss.

    “Well, that would explain why they’re as intelligent and coordinated as they are, not to mention their seemingly infinite numbers,” Azura decided. “But it’s only a rumor, right?”

    “Yeah,” Bryan confirmed. “Oh, and while I was still in Narcoss, Ike asked me to go get—DYOWWWCH! Geez!”

    Before Bryan could finish his sentence, Ike had driven his foot into the front of the Halberdier’s ankle. Bryan clutched his painful foot instantly, but was pulled away by the ear.

    “You idiot, shut up!” Ike annoyingly scolded, although in a quiet voice.

    “Ow! Alright! Alright! I forgot I wasn’t supposed to say anything! I’m sorry! Just let go! Ouch!” Bryan pleaded.

    “Then keep quiet. We’ll discuss our deal later,” Ike replied and released Bryan’s ear, turning to the rest of the group afterwards. “Ahem, sorry about that. I did ask him to run an errand for me, but that’s just between the two of us. Go on with the rest of your story, Bryan.”

    “Yeah, anyway, I didn’t find anything else in Narcoss, so I left,” Bryan continued as he rubbed his now sore ear. “The best part happened when my men and I camped out for the night in the forest near the impassable mountains.”

    Bryan’s next tale was undoubtedly a startling one. After the camp was finished being set up, the Halberdier chose to do some scouting in case there were any wild animals or plants that could be used for more food, as well as possible enemies. However, not long after he had begun his walk, Bryan spotted what looked like an old, tattered building hidden deep within the trees. When he went to further investigate, what he uncovered was actually a small bandit stronghold, as a rabble of bandits themselves hung out in front of the building’s entrance. Nearby were two smaller buildings, both in the same old condition as the larger one. Although there were only a few bandits standing outside, one of them was without a doubt the leader of the rabble.

    “I managed to stay unseen, but I overheard them talking,” Bryan continued. “They’ve already made it clear that they want your pendant, Azura, but they secretly want something else from you as well.”

    “What… What would that be?” Azura nervously inquired.

    “Your life,” Bryan remorsefully answered.

    “What?” Azura gasped in fear. “W-Why would they want to kill me?”

    “That, unfortunately, I could not figure out,” Bryan replied with disappointment in his tone.

    “Bryan, are you sure you heard right?” Ike protested, also shocked. “Because I really have a hard time believing this.”

    “I’m positive,” Bryan assured. “But that’s not all.”

    “You mean there’s more?” Ike wondered.

    “Yep,” Bryan confirmed. “I attempted to return to my camp to plan a surprise attack on the bandits, but I accidentally stepped on a twig along the way. The sound gave away my position and they came after me.”

    The Halberdier’s tale continued when he explained the bandits chasing after him all the way to the platoon’s camp. Having no choice but to fight back, Bryan then employed his men and rushed into battle. As usual, many of the enemy used axes, but they still had swordsmen on their side as well. Bryan himself took care of the swords while his own swordsmen assaulted the axe ruffians. No one from Bryan’s group was killed, but many tents had been torn to shreds and supplies destroyed in the chaos due to the bandits deciding to set the place aflame as a distraction. Once the enemy had been reduced to nothing but carcasses strewn about the remains of the camp, Bryan and his men healed any sustained injuries and cleaned up the remaining tents. They chose to trek back to the bandit stronghold and use that for shelter instead.

    “So then we arrived there, opened the doors, and found they had been storing food and other supplies,” Bryan continued. “That was good for us, but we soon discovered something we didn’t expect to see. One of my soldiers called me to the back of the large building and what did I find, but a body chained to the wall.”

    “Whoa, what?!” Ike exclaimed, even more shocked than he had been before. Azura simply gasped with fear, afraid the Red Claw had traced her back to Lorelle and killed her adoptive mother.

    “Yeah. I just about exploded,” Bryan replied. “At first I thought it was dead, but then it started moving. It was a man with purplish blue hair and a ragged beard. His clothes were torn and his body covered with bloody scrapes, cuts, and bruises. One of his pale purple eyes had been gouged out. He looked at us and said “please protect my daughters.” That’s when he fell motionless and probably died.”

    Before anyone could reply to this, a terrified shriek came out of Lily’s mouth.

    “No! FATHER!” she cried in sadness, her eyes suddenly filled with tears. She buried her face into Raela’s torso who, no less shocked, could only stroke her sister’s hair.

    “Oh no…” Raela herself sobbed, tears slowly falling down her face as well. “That…that was our father! I…I can’t believe this!”

    With that, Bryan’s eyes widened with shock.

    “Oh…I, uh…oh dear,” he whispered in shock, having no clue what to say. “I…I am so sorry. I had no idea…”

    “No,” Raela replied. “It’s-It’s not your fault, Bryan. It’s just that—”

    Before the young Cleric could finish her sentence, the double doors leading out of the conference room suddenly burst open. Revealed was a wolf laguz who had been one of the sentries outside. His facial expression was by far not a positive one.

    “Captain Kiel! We’ve got trouble!” he exclaimed. “Beorc bandits have broken through the fort gates!”

    “What?” Kiel gasped. “Blast! How many are there?”

    “From what our men could gather, well over a few dozen.”

    “Aw man. Get every man you can out there! We’ll be right behind you!” Kiel ordered and then turned to his comrades. “Ike, Azura, Bryan, I apologize for having to interrupt this conversation, but we have to take care of this.”

    “Of course, but this is crazy. How could they have pursued us this far?” Ike wondered, half out of puzzlement and half out of incredulity.

    “I have no idea, but we must go,” Kiel replied.

    With that, the entire group rushed outside to join the battle. Many wolves were already there fighting back the invaders. However, the enemies among the bandits this time were a cut above what Azura and company had previously gone up against. It didn’t take long to realize that difference when everyone formed up and that not all of their opponents used axes or swords this time around. Kiel was the first one to produce a gasp at what he saw.

    “Damn it! They have mages?” he exclaimed.

    “And fire magic is bad news for you…” Ike added with concern. “But don’t worry, we’ll take care of them. You go for the others.”

    “Alright, we’re counting on you,” Kiel replied, sighing with relief.

    “Ike, they have archers too!” Azura pointed out seconds later. She was not incorrect. Several archers were lined up behind the sword and axe users.

    “What? Perfect. It’s times like these that make me wish I had Ragnell,” Ike responded, closing his eyes in annoyance. Ragnell was one of the few swords that possessed a ranged attack.

    “We’ll go after them then,” Sara proposed. “Don’t forget how strong we are. We could probably take them down with a single blow, if not two.”

    “Ah, yes. Then you do that. Some of us can back you up just in case,” Ike suggested. Once everyone agreed to the battle plans, the battle began.

    As initially planned, Kiel, Sara, and their men aimed mainly for the archers as well as any axe men who held hand axes or short axes. Azura and Ike charged towards the mages while the remainder of the group fought against the other enemies. Bryan had advised Morris to steer clear of the mages, as they could easily avoid his highly defensive armor in order to deal major damage. Because the objective was the keep the enemy from reaching the doors of the fort, several wolves and allies had stood in front as guards. However, there were several different entrances into the fort grounds that the bandits could use to gain an edge. As Ike had scrutinized the terrain that he and his companions were fighting on, he remembered that in order to reach the main doors, one had to use the stairs in front. On either side of the staircase, the platform was low enough for any foot soldier to climb. Some walls stood on its edges for guarding.

    “Hmm… Lily! Skye! Position yourselves on those gaps in the walls behind us!” Ike ordered, knowing it should be a sound strategy.

    “Huh? What for?” Lily wondered in confusion.

    “Hm? Ah, yes! Lily, if we fight from up there, we’ll be less likely to receive counter attacks while guarding those areas at the same time,” Skye explained. “Let’s do it!”

    “Oh, excellent idea!” Lily agreed.

    The two then made their way to where Ike had pointed and resumed battling. The fighting had gone on for quite some time before anything out of the ordinary occurred. However, just as the enemy’s numbers had been reduced enough to ensure victory for Azura’s side, the leader of the bandits had spoken up, mainly directing his words to Azura herself.

    “Hahaha! I have to admit, you and your pups fight well, girl!” he complimented. “But don’t think we didn’t come prepared for this!”

    With that, reinforcements on all sides of the fort appeared to join the fray.

    “I don’t care how many men you have waiting to come out! We will win!” Azura protested and charged right for the leader. “Besides, this only shows me you’re just afraid to face one of us yourself!”

    “Oh really?” the leader replied, eager to disprove her. “Well allow me to prove you wrong.”

    With that, the two clashed their weapons and engaged in combat. Ike’s eyes widened at what he was seeing once he’d downed the opponent he had currently been dealing with. Elincia simply gasped and rushed to Azura’s aid, as other bandits were standing near the leader, just waiting to attack. Elincia attempted to hold them off herself, as Amiti was a sword going up against what would most likely be axes. However, when one of the enemies near the leader produced a lance instead, Ike gaped and rushed to the scene, sheathing Ettardios in the process. He then took hold of the steel axe he’d obtained from the bandits in the mountains and struck the foe down before he could do any damage.

    “Ike!” Elincia gasped. “Gosh, I’m sure glad you kept that axe!”

    “Yeah, it’s a good thing I did, or else you’d be in trouble,” Ike replied.

    As he’d spoken, Azura dealt a massive blow to the leader, who had dropped to one knee. The grimace on his face indicated that he was in a lot of pain. Upon his left side was a huge gash extending from his thigh to his lower hip, undoubtedly the result of Azura’s fatal attack. He slowly glanced around the area and noticed that now his reinforcements were beginning to struggle against his opponent’s companions.

    “Argh! How could this mere girl be so good?” he wondered rhetorically.

    “Because I learn from the best,” Azura proudly replied. “And that is none other than my good friend, Ike.”

    “Ha…ha…” the leader panted. “This is no good. They’ve lasted too long… Men! Fall back! We retreat for now!”

    With that, the ruffian and his cohorts fled the scene to avoid utter defeat. Azura, Ike, and company regrouped back inside the fort to safety, not thinking for a second that this would be the last they would see of the Red Claw. Ike was the first to speak once the entire group was safely behind the fort’s walls.

    “Azura, were you serious back there?” Ike wondered, a bit red from the praise.

    “I certainly was, Ike,” Azura confirmed with a smile. “You’re the greatest swordsman I’ve ever seen. I’ve learned a lot just by watching you.”

    “Heh… Thanks,” Ike replied, returning the smile. “I’m always glad to lend you a hand. But Azura, you’ve come a long way, with or without me.”

    “I have?” Azura wondered, startled.

    “Oh, yes. I can tell. By all these battles we’ve fought in, your sword skills only improve,” Ike assured her.

    “Wow… Ike, I don’t know what to say,” Azura replied. “Hearing that from you of all warriors just makes me feel so good.”

    “I’m not surprised,” Ike answered with a slight chuckle. “Anyway, didn’t the rest of you notice our opponents were different than what we’ve usually been fighting?”

    “Yeah. That was odd. I’ve never seen groups of bandits include mages or archers, let alone both,” Bryan agreed.

    “Exactly. The leader also spoke as if he were a professional,” Ike pointed out. “Not the gibberish we get from lowly bandits.”

    “Hang on Ike, are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Azura began.

    “I certainly am,” Ike confirmed. “There’s no doubt about it in my mind. We actually have been fighting real soldiers.”

  14. #14
    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    And here's another fairly short chapter. xP


    Chapter 13: The Plight of Azura


    For several minutes, Azura and company contemplated over Ike’s disconcerting conclusion about the Red Claw and Bryan’s findings from the bandit stronghold. Based upon the evidence gathered, it did seem impossible for it to be mere speculation now. Ike and Azura recalled other battles they had fought in against the Red Claw, probing their memories for further evidence. It was clear, especially in light of the latest assault, that the Red Claw was getting bolder, stronger, smarter, more organized, and more deadly. However, the only possible connections from one battle to the next they could think of were the fact that they were after Azura’s pendant and Bryan’s discovery that they wanted to kill her. The only question was why. What exactly is the Red Claw’s motive? Why did they want Azura dead when, frankly, it wouldn’t profit them? And, why was this pendant so important that both the Red Claw and the Talgrian king sought it? Confounded, Ike could think of nothing more until he suddenly remembered another important matter related to the issue.

    “Hold on,” he spoke up, breaking the ongoing silence. “Raela, Lily, you said earlier that the man Bryan found in the forest was your father. Come to think of it, we never did get your story from you. What exactly where you doing in the forest and why did those bandits take your father prisoner?”

    “Oh…” Raela shuddered, feeling the tears of grief returning to her eyes. “It was…awful. You see, my sister and I…we’re from Kolah.”

    “Kolah?” Ike responded in surprise, knowing he’d heard the name before. “Leona, isn’t that the same town Lisa came from?”

    “Why, so it is,” Leona remembered, also surprised. “I knew you looked familiar, Raela. You were one of Lisa’s apprentices as well, weren’t you?”
    “That’s right,” Raela confirmed, wiping at her face and working to regain her composure. “My family has lived there for generations. Lily and I, we were part of our village militia.”

    “Our parents were too,” Lily added. “Mother was a priestess. Not exactly the same thing as Raela, but similar. Our father was basically like Bryan, only…well, weaker.”

    “Lily!” Raela retaliated.

    “Hey, it’s true! We’ve seen Bryan fight and it’s very obvious to me that he’s a lot stronger than Father was,” Lily pointed out.

    “Alright, let’s not get into an argument now, ladies,” Bryan stepped in. “I think we see what you’re getting at.”

    “Well, as much as I’d hate to admit it, Lily does have a point though,” Raela gave in. “Our militia was never real strong. We never had to be. The enemies we were fighting off had always been lowly thieves and some weak bandits.”

    “Then the Red Claw came in, didn’t they?” Ike guessed.

    “Y-Yes…” Raela sadly confirmed. “That’s what they called themselves…”

    The now teary eyed Cleric continued the story and explained the day the Red Claw invaded Kolah. It was without warning, and extremely sudden. The militia had little time to prepare for such an attack, and suited up as quickly as possible. Many of them were able to meet the attack and attempt to fight it off, but the situation only worsened. At least two dozen Red Claw members had, in record time, completely surrounded the village and assaulted not only the militia, but the common folk who were unable to fight as well. Raela and Lily had also fought back, and managed to slay some of the weaker enemies, but had no chance against the remaining bandits. Raela had also been robbed of her Florete, an enchanted sword possessing a ranged attack that only Clerics could use. After receiving harsh injuries, and seeing the battle was lost, the sisters fled to the village outskirts and hid within some trees and overgrowth so Raela could heal their wounds.

    “And we had to see it all…” Raela lamented, tears running down her cheeks. “Since we were not nearly strong enough to fight that many bandits ourselves, we could only stay hidden and watch as those heartless dogs slaughtered our mother and our friends and neighbors, set buildings aflame, and take several men and women prisoner, probably to force them to work.”

    “Due to the fire spreading, we fled to the Forest of Hope after healing up,” Lily explained. “We were hoping to seek refuge in Eraghoa because before leaving, we heard the bandits say something about their allies moving all over Talgria.”

    “And now we know what happened to our father…” Raela continued. “He fled to the forest too, only to be captured and brutally tortured to death.”

    “That’s…that’s so awful,” Azura murmured in shock, wanting to cry herself. “To think that some people would do such horrible things…”

    “I completely agree,” Raela seconded. “They also mentioned that they were looking for a red-haired girl wearing a gold pendant. We immediately knew it was you when we saw you in the forest. I’m also glad Miss Lisa had left when she did. Otherwise, she may have perished as well. The attack occurred soon after she departed, so she has no knowledge of it yet.”

    “Oh…” Azura replied, sniffling. “I’m so sorry… I-I feel awful. So many other people’s lives have already been endangered or ruined because of these attacks…”

    “Azura…” Ike tried to step in.

    “Bryan and his father… Kye… Morris…” Azura continued. “What Leyon must be going through knowing Marc and Leona haven’t returned… The people of Galden, Narcoss, and possibly many other towns. And now Raela and Lily…and their village... And it’s all my fault because the Red Claw wants me dead…”

    Azura only continued to let her grief grow.

    “Azura, no. You’re not blaming yourself,” Ike protested.

    “Yes I am, Ike! I’ve even dragged you, Ranulf, and Elincia in it too!” Azura railed on. “I took away the peaceful lives you had just barely gotten together. I’ve interrupted the love you and Elincia had finally been able to share with each other again. I probably deserve to die…”

    “Azura, listen to me. That is complete and utter nonsense,” Ike bluntly protested. “You know very well that we chose to help you. We’re on your side because you became our first friend here and helped us in our time of need. When Ranulf and I first arrived, we were clueless about what to do first. We had no idea where to go or who to talk to. We felt like strangers and people gave me weird looks. I was afraid no one would trust us or give us jobs. Then you came along and showed us around.”

    “That being said, if it weren’t for you, Azura, Elincia would have probably been lost for ages trying to find Ike,” Ranulf added. “And all by herself too, which would have surely been trouble.”

    “Exactly, Azura!” Elincia chimed in. “We may be in another war again, but we choose to be on your side. You’re not forcing us to do anything.”

    “Don’t forget you also convinced me to open myself up to you at the port,” Ike pointed out. “You helped ease my grief over what I thought was losing Elincia to Geoffrey, even if I couldn’t be completely happy.”

    “Oh…” Azura replied, hardly able to speak.

    “Azura, I’m here out of my own free will as well,” Bryan stepped in. “If I hadn’t chosen to protect you, I wouldn’t have improved as a platoon captain the way I had. Being with you taught me how much I really needed to be a better leader. And now I am. I’m not just some soldier commanding some of Talgria’s soldiers anymore. In fact, after what happened in Narcoss, I’ve earned myself the nickname ‘Emerald Halberdier.’”
    “And my brother decided to steal back your pendant when it was gone out of guilt and sorrow,” Skye vouched. “Kye wants to help you just as much as any of us, and I bet he’s sorry he can’t do more.”

    “Leona and I may also have General Leyon worried now, but that’s not stopping either of us from aiding you,” Marc assured. “Besides, he’ll understand when he finds out why we haven’t reported back.”

    “Yeah, that shouldn’t be a problem at all, knowing the General,” Leona added. “He would expect there to be a logical explanation.”

    “And the shrine that was destroyed?” Morris recalled. “It can always be rebuilt, you know. Besides, it’s not like my ancestors can protest about it.”

    “Oh…thank you. All of you,” Azura replied, sniffling again. “Your words have touched my heart beyond repair. May our alliance never be broken…”

    “Indeed,” Ike agreed with a smile.

    “Wait a second, back up. Morris, what on earth were you talking about?” Bryan inquired, raising one eyebrow.

    “Uh, well…I…er…” Morris began nervously, unable to form a complete sentence.

    “Oh yeah, Bryan wasn’t with us when you were behaving oddly, Morris,” Azura pointed out.

    “Behaving oddly? Morris, you will explain yourself to me right now,” Bryan ordered, folding his arms.

    “N-Now hold it, Captain! I didn’t do anything wrong, I swear!” Morris protested.

    He then finally explained the reasoning behind his behavior in the forest. While Morris was not an actual Oathsworn like Marc, the ancestors of his family did highly respect them and built the shrine that was destroyed. It was to honor the Oathsworn as well as the beorc and laguz who forged the peace between the two races, which endured to this day. Many priests would come to the shrine in order to give their blessings to the Oathsworn as well as pray that the peace last forever. There was never any concern about protecting the shrine since it was built where it would not be easily discovered. Morris’s family had worked hard to build the shrine, and it enraged him to see it destroyed so callously by the Red Claw, the efforts of his ancestors gone to waste simply on the whims of a few villainous cutthroats.

    “I did get a little reckless,” Morris conceded. “But other than that, I didn’t cause any trouble. Honest!”

    “We can vouch for him too, Bryan,” Azura assured. “We are witnesses after all.”

    “I see. Well Morris, that is something I never knew about you,” Bryan commented. “Sorry I got so strict.”

    “No problem, Captain,” Morris replied. “I still want to punish the Red Claw for what they did, though. I just can’t entirely let go of my anger until that happens…”

    “Completely understandable,” Bryan agreed.

    “Er, if I may, can I interrupt this conversation for a few minutes?” Ike wondered. “I need to speak with Bryan privately.”

    “Oh yeah, go ahead, Ike,” Azura agreed, her eyes alight with intrigue.

    “Thanks,” Ike replied and turned to Kiel and Sara, who had been silent. “Hey, what’s with you two?”

    “Hm? Oh, my apologies,” Kiel replied. “We just couldn’t figure out anything to say here since we weren’t around. I guess we’ll just go check on our soldiers outside, seeing as we ordered a few to repair the gates.”

    “Ah, I see. See you later then,” Ike responded. Kiel then motioned Sara to follow him back through the main doors of the fort. Ike approached Bryan immediately after and took hold of him by the scarf around his neck, pulling him away towards another room.

    “Come here, blabbermouth,” he hissed, a blunt tone in his voice again.

    “H-Hey! I’m coming! I’m coming! Let go!” Bryan protested, trying to pull away. Ike finally released him when they were in the very same room Azura had been resting in. Bryan readjusted his scarf once regaining his footing, as Ike had left it out of position.

    “Sorry, I was merely trying to get you away before you could almost blow my cover again,” Ike replied, giving a sarcastic smile.

    “Oh come on! I apologized for that,” Bryan retorted in annoyance. “Besides, we’re alone now, so there’s nothing to worry about.”

    “True,” Ike agreed. “Now anyway, you did get the ring, right?”

    “Yep, I have it right here,” Bryan quietly replied and dug into his things. He produced a small forest-colored jewelry case and handed it to Ike.

    “Ah, excellent. I was afraid I might have been asking too much of you,” Ike admitted.

    “Nah, it wasn’t hard. With a little help from old friends of my father’s, finding the closest pro jeweler around was cake,” Bryan explained. “I couldn’t get exactly what you asked for though. Still, I think what I did manage to dig up may suffice.”

    Before responding, Ike popped open the jewelry case to confirm Bryan’s claim. Nestled inside the bed of the case sat a beautiful engagement ring, its circular emerald brightly reflecting the sunlight shining through the room’s window. Surrounding the emerald were tiny diamonds whose reflected light shown a hint of blue. Ike’s eyes widened with surprise after finally figuring out what Bryan was probably going for when deciding on the ring that would please the continuously shocked mercenary and thus Elincia the most. Still, he didn’t speak for at least a few seconds.

    “Bryan, you are officially a genius,” Ike finally complimented. “This emerald is practically Elincia’s beautiful hair in gemstone form.”

    “Hehe, yeah, that’s what I thought too,” Bryan replied, going a bit red in the cheeks and scratching the back of his head from the praise. “Can you guess the idea behind the hint of blue in the light the diamonds reflect?”

    “Uh…” Ike began, going deep in thought. “Something to do with me, I’m sure.”

    “Haha, I figured that part was obvious,” Bryan confirmed, unable to hold back a snicker. “That hint of blue is supposed to show the way your love “shines” upon Elincia, if you know what I mean. And look at how much blue you have.”

    It was true that Ike didn’t just have blue hair and blue eyes. His clothes had shades of blue as well. His armor was a bright blue to go with it.

    “Oh yeah, I get it. I did mention that I wanted the ring to have some characteristic that reflects my love for her,” Ike recalled. “And dang, you sure nailed it.”

    “Heh, glad I could be of service,” Bryan replied with a smile.

    “I’m glad I asked you to be of service. This ring is even better than what I had in mind,” Ike complimented again. “Elincia is going to get the surprise of her life when I can gather the courage to propose to her.”

    “Well then, get that courage soon!” Bryan encouraged. “You don’t want to keep your lady waiting too long, oh good sir!”

    “Ha, indeed. Oh, and here’s the gold for you as payment,” Ike replied and produced a pocket full of gold he had apparently been saving. “I’m near broke now, but it’s worth it.”

    “Yeah, I figured you wouldn’t have much more than this,” Bryan anticipated, taking the gold and putting it away. “But anyway, thanks a lot. I’m glad I didn’t fail.”

    “Good. Now you can work on not failing to keep this a secret,” Ike countered, giving Bryan a sarcastic smile. “Keep your mouth shut this time, you hear me?”

    “Yes, yes, I know. I will,” Bryan groaned irritably, yet unable to stop smiling.

    With that, the two warriors proceeded back to the conference room to rejoin their comrades. Sara and Kiel had already returned from checking on their soldiers. The rest of the group was engaged in conversation while they awaited Ike and Bryan’s return. Kiel was the first to notice the pair reenter the room, turning to face them with a greeting.

    “Oh, are you two finished with whatever business you had?” he inquired.

    “Yeah, it’s taken care of,” Ike assured.

    “Ah, well in that case, listen up, everyone! Sara and I have some good news for you all,” Kiel proudly announced.

    “Seriously?” Ike replied with surprise. “That’s the best thing I’ve heard all day.”

    “I’m with Ike,” Azura seconded. “You truly mean it, Kiel?”

    “Yep, and I can’t blame you,” Kiel agreed and turned to the rest of the group. “But anyway, after we arrived here last night, I sent one of my men to Castle Eraghoa and report your presence to the king and that messenger just returned a little while ago.”

    “We spoke to him while checking on the gate repairs,” Sara added. “He said his majesty would like to meet with you all and see what support he can offer.”

    “Oh, that’s wonderful!” Azura commented with happiness and relief. “For once, things are looking up!”

    “Yeah, we’ll definitely be safe with a laguz king on our side,” Ike agreed. “Laguz choose their leaders based on strength. Only the most powerful warriors become rulers in their nations.”

    “So that’s true?” Azura queried. “I’d heard stories from Mother, but I never thought I’d get to see the real thing.”

    “Well, now you are,” Kiel replied with a smile. “Let’s get going immediately. We don’t want the Red Claw to show up here again, especially since we’ll have to go around the Eraghoan mountains in order to reach the castle.”

    “Don’t tell me. Those mountains are impassable, right?” Ike guessed.

    “Oh more than that. They’re so rugged, cold, and sometimes foggy that not even the bird tribes can stand to fly through,” Kiel explained. “Which means trying to climb them is beyond out of the question.”

    “Yeesh,” Ike responded with surprise. “Talk about harsh.”

    “Indeed,” Kiel agreed. “Well, we won’t make progress standing in here, so allow us to depart.”

    With that, the entire group returned outside and exited through the partially repaired gates of the fort to begin the long march to Castle Eraghoa. It would be a tougher journey than any they had made in Talgria due to the size of the mountains that lay practically in the center of the nation. Although Azura and company were only going to venture around them, the cold, harsh air flowing from atop the mountains’ continuously snowy peaks also cooled their bases. Fog tended to sink as low as the foot of the mountains, limiting the sight of travelers. T he slopes of the hilly land surrounding this patch of mountains would also make traveling on foot more difficult, as moving up a hill could be potentially exhausting. And of course, any sudden avalanches would bring ruin to their quest. Kiel spoke up once more when everyone was outside of the fort grounds and traveling along the road.

    “Alright, as long as we avoid trouble, we should arrive this evening,” he predicted. “That’s when his majesty expects us as well, so we mustn’t waste too much time.”

    “I doubt that will be easy, but we’ll certainly try,” Azura assured.

    “Yeah. I must say though, your new king sounds very generous,” Ike commented.

    “Oh, he is. His majesty King Rothgar was kind enough to welcome us into his tribe when we were mere strangers in need of a home,” Sara recalled. “We were happy to serve him, and he grew so fond of us and our battle skills that he gave us commanding positions in the Eraghoan army.”

    “That’s right,” Kiel confirmed with a smile. “He didn’t care that we were technically outsiders. To him, we’re just as much wolves and warriors as any real member of the tribe.”

    “I can’t disagree. There’s no reason to treat anyone differently just because of what they are or where they’re from,” Ike replied.

    “Except nobles in Ike’s case,” Ranulf added with a punchy smile on his face.

    “Yeah… Wait, HEY!” Ike retorted, only paying half attention at first.

    “Kidding! Kidding!” Ranulf retaliated with a chuckle. “Relax, Ike. It was a joke.”

    “Well, then it was a bad joke,” Ike replied, folding his arms.

    “I don’t know, Ike, you did once think nobles were half-crazed fools,” Elincia pointed out, recalling Ike’s near tantrum at Sanaki’s infantile games when Ike had spoken with the small Begnion empress in the nation’s capital of Sienne.

    “Yeah, but that was ages ago and before I met people like Sigrun or Geoffrey or Lucia…” Ike recalled. “Anyway, I think I’m going to like your King Rothgar, Kiel.”

    “Heh, he’d probably say the same about you,” Kiel assured. “We just need to make sure we get to him on time.”

    “Right.”

    Several hours passed before the group was able to circumvent the vast mountain range blocking their path. As Kiel had described, they were indeed very rugged and foggy. While traveling, they could faintly feel some of the chilly air flowing down upon them. The area seemed to grow colder and colder with each passing minute, causing the group to huddle closer in order to keep as warm as possible. When they had nearly completed their journey around the mountain, it became even harsher as a light fog settled over them. Gradually, it became so thick that the company had to link arms to avoid getting separated. Kiel slowed his pacing and squinted in order to find out exactly where the group was before the fog blinded his sight.

    “What a perfect time for fog to roll in…” he groused in annoyance. “It’s a good thing the castle is just beyond the hill up ahead.”

    “This trip just gets harsher and harsher by the minute, doesn’t it?” Azura commented.

    “Yeah. I have to admit, even I’m having trouble coping with it,” Ike replied. “Just look at what I’m wearing, for crying out loud.”

    No doubt about it, as much as he traveled, Ike would surely be cold in the sleeveless shirt he wore while walking in the weather he was in.

    “Haha, leave it to Ike to grow arms too big for sleeves,” Sara laughed.

    “…Gee, thanks,” Ike replied sarcastically. “I feel much better now.”

    “You know Ike, you could wrap your cape around yourself,” Azura suggested. “Don’t you sometimes use it like a blanket anyway?”

    “Oh yeah, I do. Good idea,” Ike agreed and instantly pulled both sides of his cape around his body, embracing the warmth.

    “Hey Ike, I’m getting cold too. Mind if I join you in there?” Elincia wondered, her arms wrapped around her chest.

    “Of course not. I’d be happy to warm you up,” Ike agreed with a smile. He opened his cape again, allowing Elincia to huddle close to him inside.

    “Hee hee, how typical of you two,” Azura commented.

    Before either Ike or Elincia could respond, however, Sara and Kiel suddenly halted in their tracks and changed the subject.

    “Wait, guys…” Sara interrupted. “Kiel, do you smell that?”

    “…I do. It’s iron and steel,” Kiel replied, sniffing the air. “A lot of it.”

    “Oh no... Don’t tell me they’re back…” Ike groaned.

    “Well, whoever it is in the fog, we can’t let them get in our way,” Kiel warned. “As long as we make it over the hill, we should be fine. The castle’s gate will be in plain view, so make for it as fast as possible!”

    No one hesitated to comply with Kiel’s advice and instantly resume their journey. Since the fog was now limiting their line of sight enough to render them unable to see most of the hill, the group followed Kiel and Sara’s lead while several of the wolf soldiers continued to scout for any enemies. For the sake of speed, and to avoid tripping over each other, the group didn’t link arms as before but tried to keep pace so that everyone could see at least one of their comrades. Ike reflected, again cursing his lack of forethought, that using rope to link themselves or a torch to cut through the blinding fog would come in handy but then dismissed the notion. The light of a torch would, most likely, just give away their position and, if it did come to a fight, having everybody tied together would give the enemy an advantage. The next couple of minutes allowed them to safely reach the foot of the hill and begin making their way to the top, but as soon as they’d set foot on the plateau, a group of bandits suddenly jumped out of the fog without warning.

    “Ha ha ha! You and yer pups are more gullible than we thought, girl!” one of them shot at Azura. “Get ‘em, boys!”

    With that, the group found themselves surrounded within the next few seconds.

    “…Blast! They were waiting to ambush us!” Ike realized after finding enemies standing in all directions.

    “Well then, we’ll have to fight our way to the castle,” Azura replied, drawing her sword. “I’m not going to keep wasting my time playing games with these clowns.”

    “Well said, Azura,” Kiel agreed and switched to wolf form. “Time to show them how real wolves fight!”

    With that, everyone continued to make their way up the long hill while the bandits charged after them. Azura had naturally been one of the first targets, but battled all the same. Once Ike was forced to clash weapons with one of the Red Claw, he noticed yet another Venin Axe in his opponent’s hand, as well as in the hands of several other enemies. Striking the mercenary as suspicious, he decided to go into deeper thought about it once the group was safe within the castle walls. Luckily for Ike, he was able to evade being attacked and easily downed his foe with a single fatal strike. Kiel had caught a glimpse of it after fending off an opponent of his own.

    “Good lord, Ike. I remember you being a very good swordsman, but dang, that was beyond amazing,” he commented in a somewhat surprised voice. “You’ve become incredible.”

    “Heh, thank you,” Ike replied, with a smile. “…Hey, I think I see the castle. Let’s go!”

    Kiel looked in the direction Ike was facing and confirmed it to be true. The group had now passed over the top of the hill and was making their way down the sloped path. The fog had begun to clear as well, revealing a darkened horizon with the sun nearly completely behind its curtain of land, just as Kiel initially predicted. As the group finally approached the bottom of the hill, they made for the gate as fast as their feet could carry them. By now, the enemy’s numbers had been reduced to few, by both the wolves and Azura’s group, and had begun to flee. The enemy had been routed and safe haven was within reach.

    “Phew, we made it just in time,” Sara gasped, breaking the short silence.

    “Yeah, I just hope his majesty won’t mind us taking a minute to catch our breath…” Kiel replied, panting from all the running.

    Not long after he’d spoken, however, a third wolf, this time coated with copper-colored fur was making its way towards the group. It wore a fabricated crown atop its head while bracelets encircled its forelimbs. A necklace made of teeth and beads was worn on its neck. As soon as the wolf halted in front of Azura and company, it changed forms to reveal a majestic-looking man with dark copper hair, copper ears and tail, and the same attire he had on as a wolf, only this time, brown pants and sandals were included.

    “And speaking of his majesty,” Sara commented as the wolf approached them.

    “Ah, your majesty, were we a little late?” Kiel wondered.

    “Oh, no, you and Sara made very good timing, Kiel,” the wolf king replied with a smile. “Excellent job, as always.”

    “Thank you, your majesty,” Kiel returned, bowing his head. “This is the group I sent my soldier to let you know of.”

    “Ah, I see. Then you must be the lady Azura,” the wolf king guessed, turning towards Azura and distinguishing her by her dark red hair. “I am Rothgar, Eraghoa’s king.”

    “It’s a pleasure to meet you, your majesty,” Azura replied with a smile. “We’ve come far in order to seek your aid. If I had to, I’d beg for your support, because I have no one else to turn to. I only hope myself and my friends won’t be a burden.”

    “Not at all. It’d be my pleasure to do what I can,” Rothgar assured with a smile. “Although, I’m afraid it may not be much, since I have little information other than what the soldier that was sent here brought me.”

    “Oh, that’s alright. Whatever you can do will be greatly appreciated,” Azura confirmed.

    “Your majesty, if you don’t mind, may I ask you something?” Ike stepped in. Rothgar turned his attention to the curious mercenary.

    “Hm? Ah, Sir Ike, I presume. I’ve heard so much about you from Kiel and Sara,” Rothgar replied. “Tales of your heroism in Tellius have also traveled across Talgria, from what I hear. But go ahead and tell me what’s on your mind.”

    “Yeah, I guessed as much from everyone who’s been going crazy over my appearances,” Ike replied, a bit annoyed at that particular matter being brought up again. “Anyway, have any of the Red Claw been seen here before we crossed the border?”

    “Hmm… Now that you mention it, we have had minor skirmishes down at our end of the forest,” Rothgar recalled. “But other than that, nothing until you came. The soldiers here reported a heavy scent of iron and steel nearby, so I thought to greet you out here in case the bandits attacked.”

    “Just as I thought,” Ike replied. “This is starting to make sense now.”

    “It is?” Azura wondered, bewildered. “Ike, what have you figured out?”

    “I’d tell you, but I need a little more information to be sure about it,” Ike explained, wishing he could tell his thoughts right away.

    “In that case, let’s all go inside,” Rothgar proposed. “It’s much too dark and chilly out here to be discussing such issues. I’ll also be happy to treat you to dinner since the road has been hard for you, and your pursuers even more so, I imagine.”

    “Oh, that would be wonderful, your majesty,” Azura commented as the wolf king led the group to the castle’s main doors and had them opened. “Thank you so much!”

    “Yeah, I can never seem to bring enough food with me anywhere to completely satisfy myself,” Ike agreed. “Not to mention all the battling we’ve done lately has gotten me quite hungry. In fact, I’d rather eat first and talk later. Let’s go!”

    Elincia giggled as Ike bolted into the main hall of the castle. Ranulf brought his hands to his hips and turned to Rothgar, whose facial expression had changed to a confused state.

    “Your majesty, you might want to consider food shortage protection now,” he commented. “Either that, or bankruptcy protection from what it’ll cost to restock your granaries when he’s through with them.”

    “Hm? Oh, haha. Don’t worry. We’re laguz, after all,” Rothgar replied with a smile. “And even then, we’re wolves too. With healthy appetites, we also have good hunting skills, so food is rarely a problem here.”

    “Well, if you say so,” Ranulf agreed, deliberately injecting a note of skepticism in his tone. “But good luck with Ike around.”

    Rothgar merely chuckled politely and had the group follow him into the main hall to catch up with Ike, half to rest their weary feet at long last and half because they weren’t sure Ike would remember to leave their share of food untouched.

  15. #15
    Secret Sword of Justice Kelleo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness

    Time for chapter 14. :D


    Chapter 14: Hero in Peril


    Once Azura and company had all entered Castle Eraghoa, the main doors closed for the evening, half to keep the castle well heated by the torches inside, and half for security purposes. With the Red Claw undoubtedly still at large, precautions needed to be taken. Not that an attack was considered likely, as Castle Eraghoa was a fortress whose layered defenses have never been breached. However, unbeknownst to anyone within the castle walls, another suspicious figure was prowling around the area. Cautiously, all too aware of the sharp noses and keen ears of the wolves, and of what they’d do to him if he was caught, he made his way east of the castle grounds. The figure, a ragged man with an unruly shock of hair and carrying nothing but a steel axe halted his creeping when he approached a dimly lit camp a short walk away from the castle’s outer walls. The camp was fairly small, clearly designed to be quickly and quietly set up and dismantled without attracting notice. Another man carrying an axe greeted the arrival seconds later.

    “Ah, there you are,” the second man greeted. “I was wonderin’ if you were gonna finish soon.”

    “Yeah, gettin’ ‘round that place without bein’ noticed was tough,” the first man replied, clearly having acted as a spy and relieved that duty was completed.

    “Well hey, it’s a castle. But anyway, what’re the girl and ‘er buddies up to this time?” the second man inquired.

    “It’s just as we guessed, boss,” the spy reported. “They’ve got the Eraghoan king on their side now. That ain’t gonna be good for us.”

    “Bah. That wrench of a dog ain’t gonna scare us,” the boss scoffed. “We’ll deal with ‘im somehow. What else’re they doin’?”

    “Well, the king is goin’ to give ‘em some info as well as supper,” the spy continued.

    “Hmm… The info thing might be a problem. But supper, you say?” the boss replied. “Hahaha! Perfect! I had a good feelin’ an opportunity like this was comin’!”

    “Boss, you don’t mean we’re gonna—” the spy entreated.

    “Oh, we are. Let’s get ready and head out before those pesky chefs finish their cooking,” the boss confirmed. “You got the secret weapon, right?”

    “Aye, right ‘ere in my pocket,” the spy confirmed and produced a tiny bottle the size of an apple filled with a vicious liquid that seemed to bubble with deadly intensity. “Been keepin’ it since the messenger delivered it.”

    “Excellent. Remember, we got only one chance to do this,” the boss warned. “We gotta do it right the first time. Otherwise the master will prolly have our heads.”

    “Aye, sir. I’ll go fetch the disguise right away,” the spy replied and bolted into one of the tents. The boss merely snickered to himself with excitement, an evil smile forming across his face.

    “Hehehe… I hope you enjoy your meal, girl, for it will be your last! Hahaha!”

    ***


    Unaware of the conspiring bandits, Azura and company had finally seated themselves in the castle dining hall, ready to fill their stomachs to their limits with the dinner Rothgar had promised. Ike wasn’t the only one feeling peckish, even the impeccably mannered Elincia looked as ravenous as he did. Though Ike had taken care to restock their trail rations, invariably bland but nourishing, he hadn’t counted on getting detoured by the rockslide near Narcoss, getting lost in the Forest of Hope, having to skirt around the Eraghoan mountains, or taking on several new companions. The food had been rationed, the shares getting smaller and smaller, until it ran out on the edge of the Forest. Upon the long wooden table sat salvation in the form of many varieties of Eraghoan dishes, a majority of them featuring some kind of meat. Obviously, this was only natural, as wolves were born predators. However, in difference to their beorc guests, the wolves had also gathered as many breads, fruits, and vegetables as they could possibly get their paws on, despite the fact that the ratio of meat to produce dishes still ended up being rather large. Of course, being the meat lover that he was, this only pleased Ike further than he had already been, especially when he sunk his teeth into a spiced rib for the first time. A satisfied smile formed across his face as he delightfully chewed.

    “Oh wow, this is so very delicious!” Ike complimented once he swallowed. “I haven’t tasted anything this good since Oscar’s cooking.”

    With that, he continued to plow into his rib, recalling another one of the former Greil Mercenaries. Oscar’s cooking skills had indeed been very popular.

    “Ah yeah, Oscar always did use the best flavors,” Elincia recalled between rapid bites of mashed potatoes. “I’ll never forget his meals.”

    “I’ll say! Even the laguz were impressed with him! Remember that, Ike?” Ranulf recalled, referring to when Oscar fed a whole battalion of beast laguz as well as Ike and the mercenaries during the Laguz Alliance battles against Begnion.

    “Oh, you mean the time he, Titania, and Lethe were teasing me about my eating habits behind my back?” Ike groused, snapping up a bite of steak. “The laguz were impressed, yeah, but I sure wasn’t happy overhearing what I heard.”

    “Aw come on, Ike. Everyone knows you’d win if the beorc were to have an eating contest,” Ranulf replied with a laugh.

    “Perhaps, perhaps not, but they didn’t have to make me sound like some fat slob,” Ike retaliated. “They said I’d eat so much, nothing would last. Not to mention Lethe compared me to Skrimir of all people. I do love to eat, I will admit it, but certainly not like him. I at least have manners. He’s the slob.”

    “Hm…. Yeah, I’ll agree on the Skrimir part,” Ranulf gave in, remembering instances where witnessing Skrimir’s undesirable eating habits nearly caused his own meal to make a second appearance. “Not to mention anyone can see that you’re quite fit. But honestly, I think they were just exaggerating. Especially Oscar. If anyone were able to describe how you eat for real, it’d be him.”

    “Well yeah, he’s the cook,” Ike pointed out with a chuckle.

    “Oscar…Oscar…” Kiel stepped in, musing aloud over the name. “Oh yeah! Ike, wasn’t he the one who nearly got killed by that wolf that attacked Elincia at Castle Crimea?”

    “Yeah, that was him too,” Ike confirmed, his attention divided between Kiel and a roasted chicken leg. “Worst injuries I’d ever seen. Still, he apparently fought well for one not accustomed to fighting on foot.”

    “You know, to this day, I still think of Oscar as the bravest knight I’ve ever seen for that,” Elincia added, noting a raised eyebrow from Ike. “Not that Geoffrey or one of the other knights wouldn’t have done the same, but…you know.”

    “Actually, I agree with that. Despite having potentially fatal wounds, a speed disadvantage, and being in the dark, Oscar still fought as hard as he could,” Ike recalled. “And I doubt even Geoffrey would have had the strength to continue after that. I can see this, and I didn’t even witness the battle.”

    “Wow, a knight and a chef? That’s an interesting combination,” Sara commented. “I would have never guessed.”

    “Yeah, some people are full of surprises,” Ike agreed, returning to the ribs sitting on a large plate near him. It was clear that any spicy rib or steak satisfied him more than anything else, especially considering how rapidly both were disappearing.

    “Heh, from what I’m hearing, Oscar sounds really cool,” Azura commented as she finished with a platter of boiled vegetables. “I wonder how his cooking would match up to Mother’s delicious recipes… Yeah, Ike, you should convince Oscar to come here and let me have a taste!”

    “Haha, getting competitive, are we?”

    “Hee, I’m partially kidding. I just want to be open-minded,” Azura replied with a smile.

    “Ah. That’s one way to look at things,” Ike agreed. “By the way, are you going to eat that?”

    He pointed to the rib on Azura’s plate, which had been personally delivered to her by one of the chefs. He had taken it from the same rib plate Ike was working on.

    “Oh, no, you can take it if you want,” Azura responded. “I’m not real big on meat, especially ribs.”

    “I figured as much. Thanks,” Ike returned with a smile, immediately plucking the meat and stuffing his face once more since Azura was seated directly next to him. He had already devoured half the plate of ribs while still helping himself to several other meat dishes, including sirloin steaks, pork chops, and even venison, something he had actually never tasted before. And this was only in addition to the few vegetarian plates he’d added to his veritable banquet. Kiel chuckled at witnessing Ike’s behavior.

    “Sir Eatsalot must be in paradise over there,” he joked. “Now for the million gold piece question. Indigestion or flatulence?”

    Ike simply shot a playful glare.

    “Aw, Ike, he’s teasing,” Sara assured. “Don’t you ever get full, though?”

    “Of course I do. In fact, I’m actually not far from it,” Ike replied, holding back what might have been a deafening belch. “Also, I apologize for changing the subject, but going back to what I was saying outside—”

    Before Ike could finish his sentence, the doors of the dining hall boomed open. King Rothgar emerged at the threshold, followed by a pair of castle servants. He approached the dining table with a pleasant smile on his face.

    “Well, I can see Ike is certainly enjoying himself,” he commented with a chuckle.

    “Yeah,” Ike replied. “The ribs are the best, if you ask me, your majesty. But I’m getting pretty full now, so I’d like to discuss what I wanted to say earlier.”

    “Ah, yes, you said you had an observation about the enemy,” Rothgar recalled. “Go on.”

    “That’s right. Now Raela, where exactly is Kolah?” Ike inquired, already having a good idea of its location.

    “Just a little east of the forest,” Raela replied. “There are a couple other villages not far from us there too. Why?”

    “I knew it. That’s what those bandits from the woods meant when they said their allies were taking over the east,” Ike realized. “And if they reached those villages and the forest before us, they had to have known exactly where we were going. All this time, they have been able to predict our every move.”

    “Ike… You’re not serious, are you?” Azura wondered, shocked beyond all reasoning. “What are we supposed to do about it?”

    “I wish I wasn’t, but it’s undeniable,” Ike remorsefully replied. “And that’s not all. If the Red Claw has the means to do such a thing, someone definitely has to be helping them and providing them with men. They’re way too well equipped and far too organized. No ordinary bandits would be able to pull off anything we’ve seen.”

    “As dire as this situation sounds, I fear you are probably right,” Rothgar reluctantly agreed. “As for whom the Red Claw may be working with…”

    “That’s the only answer I don’t have,” Ike admitted.

    “Yeah, who could be helping them?” Azura put in. “Certainly not Cilae. Talgria is allied with her.”

    “Indeed. Astryn is out of the question as well,” Rothgar added. “I’ve recently been told by the nobility there that they have their own issues to deal with. They said Queen Marion has been frail and sickly for quite some time and the condition only worsens. She is sure to pass away soon and she has no children or living relatives.”

    This instantly caused Ike to return to the past once again, remembering how Rhys used to suffer similarly, only to a lesser extent.

    “Really? That’s just terrible,” Azura commented. “But yeah, it definitely can’t be them, then.”

    “Indeed. All of their attention is focused on seeking a rumored prince,” Rothgar explained. “I suspect the fear of losing their royal bloodline has addled their wits if they believe that story. But anyway, this was some of the information I wanted to give you. As you know, there are no laguz among the Red Claw, so that leaves only one other candidate.”

    “…Melora!” Azura blurted out of realization.

    “What? Melora? But they’re so far away,” Bryan pointed out. “On the opposite corner of the continent from Talgria, in fact.”

    “Not necessarily,” Rothgar countered. “Melora recently went to war with Cilae. I was notified of this as well in case the Meloran troops decided to make us their next target.”

    “What? What reason do they have to fight?” Azura inquired out of concern and curiosity.

    “I’m afraid I’m unsure,” Rothgar admitted.

    “I think I know,” Ike replied. “If Melora has allied itself with the Red Claw, perhaps they’re the ones who actually want the pendant. The Red Claw was only hired to do the work for them so that no one would notice. My guess is the Melorans also trained and equipped the Red Claw so they could hunt for Azura and the pendant and distract Talgria’s armies. Now they could very well be on their way there.”

    “…Ike, your intellect impresses me, for I fear you may be right once again,” Rothgar commented, a reluctant tone in his voice again. “And if you are, Melora will without a doubt come storming through Eraghoa as well. We’ll have to make preparations.”

    “Indeed…” Ike agreed, heaving a sigh of concern.

    “Well, seeing as your enemies will undoubtedly grow deadlier, I’d be happy to let all of you rest here for the night and continue your journey in the morning,” Rothgar proposed and then turned to his two servants. “Both of you, go prepare rooms for our guests.”

    “At once, your majesty,” one of the servants replied. Both of them immediately exited the room to carry out their given orders.

    “Oh, thank you,” Ike commented. “I was beginning to feel a little tired, so I think I’ll go follow them.”

    With that, Ike got up from the table and took his turn through the doors in attempt to catch up with the servants.

    “Why don’t the rest of you go too and drop off your supplies once you’re finished eating?” Rothgar suggested. “We can finish our discussion later.”

    “Good idea,” Azura agreed, very nearly funneling a bowl of diced melon into her mouth. “With the luck we’ve had as far as supplies go, we’ll probably have to start foraging before we get to the next town.”

    Later on that evening and sometime after everyone’s stomachs had been filled to satisfaction, Elincia was making her way up the stone stairs to Ike’s door. If what they’d gone through so far was any indication, such moments would be few and far between until whatever force that hunted Azura and threatened Altarais was crushed. Thus, Elincia was determined to make the most of this moment.

    That train of thought, however, gave way to another: what would happen when the burgeoning evil in Altarais was vanquished and she and Ike weren’t limited to ‘moments’ anymore? Would they return to Tellius, as Geoffrey had said they’d be welcome to? The prospect had its charms, as it would be nice to see Geoffrey, Lucia, Bastian, Mist and her other friends again, and, though Ike would never admit to it, she was confident he would be an excellent Prince Consort, if not a king. However, she dreaded how her uncle and Crimea’s people had reacted to her departure. She had done everything she could for them, her conscience was clear, though how others would regard Crimea’s Queen running off after a mercenary still teased at the back of her mind. If she didn’t return to the throne, she still believed it was in good hands with her lord uncle as king, and she rather doubted Ike would mind if she avoided the veritable circus of nullifying her abdication. Maybe they’d live with the Greil Mercenaries? That certainly was appealing, as they were some of the few people to treat her simply as a person rather than a royal, and the free and exciting life of a mercenary was utterly tantalizing. Or, would they live here in Altarais? Elincia hadn’t seen much of the continent but Talgria was certainly a lovely country and she’d already made many friends. If she and Ike did have to stay, she couldn’t ask for a better place. Maybe, someday soon, she and Ike would take the next step in their relationship. She shivered happily at the thought of becoming Ike’s wife, and later, the mother of his children.

    Elincia felt a stirring in her womb at the prospect...or, was that her stomach voicing its displeasure about that salmon dish she tried? Elincia had never had salmon before and it did look undercooked. Whatever the future held, the present was looking promising. Elincia strode to Ike’s door and gently knocked. Between the long, difficult journey and how much Ike had eaten, he might be resting by now. Elincia was pleased to see Ike answer the door seconds later.

    “I figured I’d be seeing you tonight,” he greeted with a smile. Elincia giggled with happiness as Ike stepped aside to allow her in. After Ike had closed the door once more, he took Elincia by her waist and swung her towards the wall, his lips meeting hers in another passionate kiss. Elincia’s hands slipped around Ike’s neck as she returned his loving gesture. Her hand migrated to his cheek once their lips chose to part and lovingly looked into his gazing blue eyes.

    “Hee hee, that was the best kiss you’ve given me so far,” she complimented. “You’re a good kisser, Ike.”

    “Heh. I do try,” Ike replied, his smile returning. “Oh hey, check this out. I have a pretty neat balcony up here.”

    “Oh?” Elincia wondered, remembering another similar time between them. She stood and, her curiosity piqued, followed Ike to another door in his room after standing up straight once more. He opened it to indeed reveal a small stone balcony overlooking Eraghoa’s rugged mountains. Near the left side of the railing sat a decorative water fountain, bubbling merrily as water cascaded down fluted tiers to a basin filled with water lilies. The cloudless sky above them was a mass of ebony punctured by thousands of little stars surrounding the crescent-shaped moon.

    “Oh wow…” Elincia finally spoke up. “This is such a lovely view.”

    “Yeah,” Ike agreed, impressed with the sight himself. “I’ve gotta hand it to this place’s architect. This balcony is in the perfect spot.”

    As the two stood together gazing out on the landscape before them, Ike had slid his arm around Elincia’s waist, her head resting lovingly upon his shoulder. He considered taking the engagement ring from his pocket and doing his proposal that moment, but had difficulty in deciding exactly what to say. The prospect left him so nervous he very nearly felt ill. His legs had started shaking at some point during their embrace and he found himself gasping for breath. His exhaustion was also growing worse. Without realizing it, Ike had leaned a little towards the railing and stumbled, only barely managing to keep himself and Elincia from falling over. Elincia gasped with a start.

    “Oh! E-Elincia! I’m so sorry,” Ike quickly apologized, wondering why Elincia’s face seemed to be spinning. “I don’t know what came over me…”

    “It’s alright, but Ike, maybe you should get some sleep,” Elincia suggested, still a little shaky from their near miss. “You don’t seem to feel like talking much anyway.”

    “I’m sorry… I…I do think I need to go lay down…” Ike agreed. However, this fatigue he was experiencing did not feel like normal weariness at all. As he reentered his room and attempted to reach the bed, Ike’s stride grew more unbalanced. He staggered to one side, tried to regain his footing but his legs wouldn’t cooperate. The room was beginning to spin and the walls seemed to be melting like wax in an oven and the combined effect challenged the grip Ike’s stomach had on its contents. Elincia watched this abnormal behavior and sensed something was amiss.

    “Ike, are you alright?” she wondered, concerned and confused at the same time. “…Ike?”

    Ike did not respond. As he simply stood there in the middle of his room, his vision continued to worsen, the walls and floors melting together and spinning until the room became a whirlpool of liquid stone while his stomach twisted with pain. His head began to throb as well, rendering him unable to think clearly. The area had gradually grown intensely warm and had been since Ike first stepped onto the balcony, despite the fact that he wasn’t wearing very thick clothes. He grimaced as the feeling that he was losing his mind formed in his head. Why was the room almost spinning and melting? Why did he feel as if a huge chunk of his strength had deliberately been sucked right out of him? Unable to form an answer in his whirling head, Ike let himself fall to the floor, his legs unable to keep him standing any longer.

    “IKE!” Elincia gasped in fear, rushing to her lover’s side. It was now clear that Ike was unwell. Elincia knelt to his side and brought her hand to his forehead. She let out a small scream as she snatched her hand back. His skin was now so hot that touching it felt like walking barefoot in a sandy beach on a hot summer day. Although Ike had not fallen unconscious, he had clearly become too weak to move much at all. Before Elincia could begin to frantically wonder what to do, good timing allowed there to be another knock at the door.

    “Come in,” she replied.

    Ranulf emerged through the door, apparently looking for the pair.

    “Oh there you—WHAT THE—?!” Ranulf exclaimed when he saw Ike’s limp form on the floor beside Elincia. “What happened?!”

    “Ranulf! Thank goodness!” Elincia replied, relieved he appeared. “I really have no idea. Ike just collapsed to the floor after saying he was tired! He’s burning up and can barely move!”

    “Oh man. I’d better go get the others…” Ranulf decided. “You should watch over him.”

    “I will, don’t you worry,” Elincia assured. “Oh I’m so scared…”

    “Elincia…” Ike had finally spoken up, although in a weak voice.

    “Ike, don’t talk! Try to get in bed!” Elincia urged. “Please!” Since Ike had already shed his armor and weapons, all she had to remove for him were his boots to ensure that he’d be comfortable as they struggled to get him under the covers.

    Meanwhile, Azura and a few others were downstairs in the castle’s main hall with Rothgar, waiting for Ranulf to return with Ike and Elincia so they could decide on a new route to Aracion. Kiel, Sara, and Bryan had joined Azura and the king while the remainder of the group had chosen to turn in for the night and learn their decision in the morning. Ranulf instantly barged back through the doors he had departed from and did not hesitate to speak up. Several voices fell silent at his approach, but whatever they were saying could wait.

    “Guys! We’ve got big trouble!” he exclaimed in an urgent tone.

    “Whoa, Ranulf, slow down. What’s going on?” Bryan inquired.

    “It’s Ike! Something is seriously wrong with him!” Ranulf instantly replied, still attempting to catch his breath. “He’s on the floor in his room with a terrible fever!”

    “What?!” Azura gasped. “But how? From what?!”

    “I haven’t the slightest idea,” Ranulf replied, wishing he could have given a better answer. “But come on, we have to help him in any way we can!”

    “Oh, of course!” Azura agreed.

    The group then followed Ranulf out of the chamber and to the staircase he had previously journeyed down. Only Rothgar remained silent during the short trip, which struck the others as rather odd. Still, Ike was their greater concern and simply ignored the king’s gestures for the time being, knowing he must have a reason nonetheless. Minutes later, Ranulf had reached Ike’s door once more, this time with company, and immediately opened it to check on Ike’s condition. Elincia had succeeded in helping Ike get up, and now the famous hero was abed under the white blankets with two pillows supporting his head. A small folded cloth rested upon Ike’s forehead, dampened from the water fountain on the balcony.

    “Oh no…” Azura muttered, tears of grief forming in her eyes. “This…this is terrible…”

    “Hmm…” Rothgar intoned gravely, finally breaking his silence. “I’ve seen this before.”

    “Your majesty, you have?!” Elincia gasped with hope. “Oh, if there’s anything you can do to help Ike, I beg you to tell us!”

    “I have a theory, but I need to do some investigating to find out if it’s true,” Rothgar explained. “I promise I’ll do as much as I can. I’ll also send the raven messenger that recently arrived here from Perais to let King Wencelis know of this incident, as your journey to him in Aracion will be delayed further.”

    “Oh, thank you…” Elincia replied, relief in her voice. The group was silent for the next few minutes after Rothgar departed the room, at a loss as to how this incident had happened. In the past, Ike was not known to get sick often, with few people besides Mist recalling any times he’d been even mildly ill. The reason behind this case was truly mysterious.

    “Man… I can’t believe this is happening…” Kiel finally spoke up, closing his eyes in sadness.

    “Yeah, I’ve never seen anyone get so sick this quickly,” Sara added. “We’d better leave Ike to rest though. I mean, he could be contagious and it’d be very bad if we all were to get sick.”

    “Good point,” Ranulf agreed. “Still, someone has to take care of him…”

    “I will,” Elincia volunteered. “No matter what the cost, I will never leave his side. I love him too much…”

    “Well, we can’t argue with that,” Ranulf replied. “Good luck, Elincia. We’ll return when the king finds some answers.”

    “Indeed we will,” Azura agreed.

    Elincia nodded as the group departed the room to await Rothgar’s return. She looked sadly over her sick lover, tears forming in her eyes. Ike’s condition was getting no better as his skin became a pinkish hue and his cheeks gradually turned a rosy red from the fever, and drops of sweat even trickled down the sides of his head. Elincia pulled up a small stool in the room and sat down, making sure the cloth on Ike’s forehead was still damp.

    “I’m so sorry this had to happen, Ike…” she apologized, unable to hold back her tears. “But you’ll be better again…I hope…” She doubted Ike could hear her, and thought it even less likely that he would reply. To her surprise, he did.

    “Elincia…” he gasped, having to pause as his breath went short. “Please…you must go…”

    “Ike, no! You need me to take care of you!” Elincia insisted.

    “But…I don’t want to get you sick…” Ike protested. “Please…”

    “I don’t care if I get sick. I will not leave you until you’re well again,” Elincia rebuffed, her resolve brooking no argument. “Besides, if you were to die from this dreadful illness and I picked it up, that means we’ll only be together in death later on.”

    Although she didn’t want it to come down to death, Elincia heartily closed her eyes, willing to accept whatever fate fell upon them.

    “Well…I can’t stop you,” Ike admitted. “Thank you.”

    ***


    Another two hours had passed since Ike first fell ill, and unaware of the situation for the time being, King Wencelis as well as Louise continued to focus on their own situation. The word on Bryan and his soldiers had reached General William and then was passed along to Wencelis himself, but the location of Leyon’s knights was still unknown. Furthermore, news of the outbreak of war between Melora and Cilae had only recently reached the Talgrian king’s ears. The question of whether or not he could provide enough aid for Talgria’s war stricken ally weighed heavily on Wencelis’s stressed mind. After all, Cilae was known more for its studies than its military prowess, which gave a clear advantage to an aggressive state like Melora. Before he could make his decision, however, Wencelis’s thoughts were interrupted by the doors of the castle’s main hall bursting open. Leyon emerged from the other side, a depressed look on his face.

    “Leyon, still no word on Marc and Leona?” Louise guessed from his facial expression.

    “No…” Leyon replied, a concerned tone in his voice. “Where could those two be…?”

    “Do not over worry yourself, Leyon. I’m sure there’s a logical explanation,” Wencelis encouraged, reluctant to consider the alternative.

    “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll try to keep thinking positively, your majesty,” Leyon agreed. “What I really came for was to let you know a raven messenger sent by Eraghoa has arrived and wishes to see you right away. He says it is urgent.”

    “Oh? Then allow him to come forth,” Wencelis replied. “Did he state his business?”

    “No, only that no time can be wasted,” Leyon reported after motioning a pair of guards to bring the raven messenger in.

    “Hmm…” Wencelis responded. Within moments, the messenger had walked through the doors and approached the Talgrian king, eager to proceed with his message. Once Wencelis allowed the raven to speak, he made no hesitation to begin.

    “Thank you, your majesty. I come for King Rothgar himself to bring you some urgent news,” the raven began. “However, before I report it, I believe I should let you know he is housing some of the Talgrian soldiers, including two knights whom you may be concerned about.”

    “Marc and Leona! So that’s where they’ve been,” Leyon realized. “What are they doing there?”

    “The girl your king seeks is with them. Apparently the soldiers found her and they are escorting her here,” the raven explained.

    “Oh, thank goodness,” Wencelis replied with relief. “I was wondering how things were going to play out now that the mountain routes have become impassable. Please, do go on.”

    “Of course. Unfortunately, their journey here is going to be delayed for some time,” the raven continued. “I was sent to inform you that one of the girl’s party has become deathly ill. From what I’ve been told, the victim is a man from Tellius named Ike.”

    Upon hearing the last sentence, Wencelis’s eyes instantly widened. Leyon and Louise also stayed silent, looks of shock strewn upon their faces.

    “Uh…” the raven murmured in confusion. “Do you know about this man?”

    “…Oh yes,” Wencelis finally spoke up. “We most certainly do.”

    “I see. As I was saying, the only other information I have is that from Ike’s symptoms, Rothgar has suspicions about the food he ate,” the raven finished.

    “Hmm…” Wencelis replied, clearly forming thoughts in his mind. “Thank you, you may go.”

    “Dear brother, is that really the same Ike the common folk have been talking about lately?” Louise wondered after the messenger had departed the room.

    “I have no doubts. They say he is a famous mercenary throughout Tellius whose skill with the blade is so far unmatched,” Wencelis explained.

    “Ah, that’s right. Very impressive,” Louise recalled.

    “Indeed,” Wencelis agreed. “However, if Rothgar’s theory is what I think it is, we must be very careful in how we deal with this.”

    “Wait, you’re not thinking…?”

    “I am. I wish it were something else, especially since they also say Ike has a younger sister, but I can think of no other possibility,” Wencelis remorsefully replied.

    Upon hearing the king’s previous words, Leyon froze where he was standing. His eyes stared into space, his mouth slightly hung open, and his mind ignored his surroundings. Louise was the first to take note of his gesture.

    “Brother…I think you hit a sensitive spot,” she pointed out.

    “Oh. Leyon, please forgive me. Memories of your brother are returning to you, aren’t they?” Wencelis guessed.

    Leyon didn’t immediately reply. Instead, his face turned into a saddened grimace. Louise simply turned away, though neither Leyon nor Wencelis noticed.

    “Y-yes…” Leyon finally confirmed. “I apologize, your majesty. It’s just…I miss him so very much. He was my role model and my hero. And to think that a young girl would go through the same experience if her own brother were to die…”

    “I understand,” Wencelis replied. “Russell’s death was indeed sudden and very saddening for us all. I’m sure Rothgar and the others are doing everything they can to help Ike, however.”

    “Hmm…” Leyon murmured distractedly.

    Before anyone could speak further, the doors of the chamber burst open once more. This time, another knight had come bolting in. It was a woman with light green hair, garbed in armor shaded beige. Her features were etched with concern as her attention was given first to Leyon.

    “General Leyon! We have a situation!” she exclaimed. “Down by the riverbank, Eliot and I were doing some scouting and we found another Red Claw hideout. Like the idiot that he is, Eliot instantly jumped the enemy and got himself captured. Eliot is a valuable captive; taking him must’ve bolstered the enemy’s morale for they began robbing the nearby village moments later!”

    “What?! Damn it! This is the last straw!” Leyon retaliated. “I will not tell that hoodlum a third time to put a lid on that temper of his! Come on, Natalie!”

    “Oh dear…” Wencelis muttered to himself. Louise simply shook her head as Leyon and Natalie, the deputy commander of the Royal Knights, instantly raced back through the doors. Leyon was known to get frustrated rather easily, especially at Eliot’s recklessness and short temper. After he and Natalie mounted their horses, the two Talgrian Paladins journeyed to their destination, a village next to the river. Along the way, Leyon explained everything heard from the raven messenger to Natalie, including the incident with Ike. Now there wasn’t only correcting Eliot’s mistakes to take care of, but investigating to do according to Rothgar’s suspicions. As he and Natalie approached the riverbank, Leyon faintly spotted Eliot’s white horse taking a drink, telling the general that either the Red Claw had no use for the horse or simply didn’t care.

    “So where’s Eliot?” Leyon inquired. “I’ve decided to do a little snooping around myself in this Red Claw hideout, so let’s collect him quickly. I want to do anything I can to help with Sir Ike’s affliction.”

    “Of course, sir. Over there in that little shack,” Natalie replied, pointing to a small wooden structure just a little more ways ahead. “The bandits just up and tossed Eliot in there like he was a sack of potatoes.”

    “Talk about rough…”

    With that, Leyon trotted his horse up to the shack, and dismounted with no hesitation. Using his axe, he hacked the door open wide enough for him to step through. Inside was Eliot bound at his wrists and ankles. His dark hair was ruffled from the treatment he had been given and his orange armor dirtied up.

    “Ah! G-General Leyon!” Eliot gasped with relief and nervousness at the same time.

    “Eliot, what in blazes is wrong with you?!” Leyon retorted with anger. “I’ve told you more than once that you need to control yourself!

    “I know, I know, I’m so very sorry!” Eliot pleaded as the general undid the ropes around his limbs. “It’s just that I couldn’t resist any longer when those Red Claw dogs said they’ve killed the girl.”

    “Well save it for later, we’ve no time for—WHAT?!” Leyon exploded when he picked up everything Eliot said.

    “Oh…Oh my…” Natalie responded, shocked beyond repair. “They-They couldn’t have. Not when she’s escaped to Eraghoa.”

    “My thoughts exactly… I bet you anything this is connected to Sir Ike’s illness,” Leyon speculated.

    “Huh?” Eliot wondered in confusion.

    “We’ll fill you in later,” Leyon replied. “Right now our concern is the Red Claw members here. Natalie, station a group of knights to guard the area for the night once the enemy is disposed of. We’ll return to investigate in the morning. Nothing in the hideout is to be tampered with!”

    “Understood,” Natalie obeyed.

    With that, after Eliot grabbed the lance he’d dropped in the shack and mounted his horse, the three knights resumed pursuing the Red Claw, hoping to stop them from sacking the village. They didn’t hold much hope on that account though; the Red Claw somehow knew exactly when to strike so that they came and went before they could be caught. And, they usually left plenty of grisly calling cards to mark their passage.

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