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Crusaders Reborn

Chapter Text

"Imperial soldiers are on the move; they've found us!" desperately shouted Ulster, a somewhat plain looking 18 young man with black hair, as he passed through the hidden town of Tirnanog and into the church. "Subjugation forces have left Ganeishire and are heading this way!" He cried this repeatedly, waving his arms the entire time.

His mad rush through the sacred halls came to a sudden stop when he suddenly found his twin sister, Larcei (a young woman with equally dark hair whose looks could only be described as Amazonian), barring his way. The look on her face was a mix between "disappointed" and "patronizing" and she did not simply let her expressions speak for her. "Are you seriously this freaked out Ulster? We knew that they'd find us eventually. Let 'em come! We can take them out in the sandy basin, then march on and take Ganeishire before they realize that their men are all dead. There we go, all our problems, all solved in one blow!"

Ulster was rather taken aback by his sister's bold proclamation. "Larcei, you're crazy! Shanan is still in the Yied, and Oifey, Delmund, and Lester are still out on their scouting mission! It's just you, me, and a handful of trainees! Do you really think that people like Tristan and Deimne are really going to accomplish much?! We are outclassed, and outmatched. Do you seriously expect us to be able to take them on?!" he cried.

"You're not scared are you Ulster?" asked Larcei, side-eying her twin "This is our big chance to show Shanan that we're not kids anymore, and you want to run?! No way in Hell! I'm so sick of running from those... those animals! Iv'e lost more than a dozen dear friends to them already! You know very well how they almost got me on a raid three years ago! Ugh, I was unbelievably lucky that Shanan arrived when he did that day!" said Larcei shuddering.

"Larcei, I know it was horrible, but..."

"I will never forget that look in Rebekah's eyes as that imperial general grabbed her and...! Men are such pigs! When they see a girl, they don't see a human being! All they see is an object that they can use to fulfill their most base and vile desires. I will never hand myself over to one of those...!" said Larcei, tearing up and literally shaking with rage.

"OK Larcei! I get the point, but..." said Ulster trying to figure out how to interject without setting her off more. Luckily for him, someone else did the job for him.

"It's ok, Ulster. I know that you're just holding back for my sake." said a voice from behind him. He turned around to see their friend, Prince Seliph, standing there. "I'm sure Shanan gave you strict orders to keep me out of danger. He must have, or else you would have been the first one out there. I know you have been itching for a fight for a long time now. Yes, you're cautious, but I know that you haven't come close to forgiving or forgetting what they tried to do to your sister."

In the meantime, Larcei's eyes widened in realization. "Oh! That... actually makes a lot of sense. I should have thought of that, but, um... I actually forgot that you were here." She said, cheeks flushed in embarrassment.

Seliph smirked, "Figures! Only you would be so focused on a fight that you would forget about the friend only a few few away from you." he said jokingly, but then getting serious again he said, "There's no need to hold back though. I can hold my own in a fight. Besides, if any of us should be out there, it should be me. I'm the most involved, and I'm the oldest! I'm 19 and and you two are 18. If you two aren't kids anymore, then I most certainly am not! I agree with Larcei... about fighting anyways. We can't turn our backs on the people of Tirnanog, not after they've done so much for us already!"

"Well in that case, I'll help too!" said a young, feminine voice from the back of the room. "If you're going to be fighting, then you are definitely going to need a healer!" said a slightly younger, slender, attractive redhead as she strode up to the other three.

"No Lana, you stay here. I'm not going to let you get yourself killed. Nuns and warfare DO NOT MIX!" Seliph said firmly, while shaking his head no.

Lana put her crossed her arms, and loudly proclaimed "You did NOT just say that! You did not give me the 'stay-in-the-kitchen-speech!' You know full well that I feel just as strongly about that sort of thing as Larcei does." she stated firmly "(except for the never will marry part. Seliph, please!)" she thought to herself. Shaking off the stray thought, she continued her rant "The imperial troops are getting crueler by the day! It's too dangerous to even be a girl anymore! I am not going to be left here, twiddling my thumbs while YOU get YOURSELF killed!"


"It's OK Seliph, let her go, I will." said a warm, feminine voice from the doorway. The children turned around to see Lana's mother, the lady Adean of Jungby, standing there with a sad smile on her face. "Better to see her go to war this way than having her being kidnapped and nearly... anyways, Lana, take this Warp staff, and this Restore staff with you. I'm sure that you will put them to good use, like I did about two decades ago."

"Mrs. Adean..." Seliph said weakly.

"I'm sure Lester will join you shortly and put your father's gear to good use. Of course he will, he is already so much like his father. Tough, brave, ready to put his life on the line for the sake off... OH MIDIR! Whatever happened to you? Why haven't you returned to me?" she said, finishing her sentence with a sob.

A moment later, a young girl with greenish hair and eyes, who seemed to be of about ten years of age appeared in the room and looked at the others. "Was mommy thinking about daddy again?"

Lana nodded "Yes, Midayle. She was. She realized that we have to go somewhere for a while now, and it brought back memories." She knelt down "Midayle... can you look after mommy after we are gone? Lester is going to have to join us once he sees what is going on. It's really bad, and really important."

"So you have to go huh, Lana?" asked Midayle. Lana nodded. "Ok, I get it, they can't heal themselves, so they need you around so they can come home to mommy. Take good care of them and come back as soon as you can!" exclaimed the little girl, running up to her sister and giving her a big hug and a kiss. Then she helped to escort her mother out of the room.

After standing around awkwardly for a moment, Seliph puffed loudly, looked at Lana, and muttered "From the mouth of babes." directly, he said "I'm sorry Lana, you're right. This is everyone's battle, stay behind me, and you should be safe. Alright then, let's get going." turning again he said, "Mrs. Adean, are you going to be alright?" he called before she had gone completely out of sight.

She sniffed loudly and nodded. She then muttered something about praying for their safe return, and left the room entirely, with Midayle pushing her along. So the aspiring warriors left, gathered their gear, and went to sortie. As they did this, Lana took Seliph to the side and said,
"I'm sorry if I got a little out of hand, sir."

"No, it's ok, I guess it is for the best. Midayle helped you make your point. Let's just go, ok? I have a feeling this is going to be a long journey."

Thus the new Crusaders' quest for justice began.

Chapter Text

Fortunately, most of the enemy soldiers had yet to cross the basin. Their charge across the sandy plain was led by a handful of arrogant swordsmen, who thought they were more than enough to take down any resistance. Their foes were children, how much trouble could they be?

Ulster was the furthest ahead of the group from Tirnanog, and he seemed to be the biggest threat, so they mostly ganged up on him. He quickly proved that he was more than meets the eye. He managed to kill one and hold off the other four while Seliph and Larcei finished them off. After this, Ulster was in a semi-rough looking shape. However, they proved to be merely surface wounds, which were quickly closed up by Lana's healing stave. They were halfway across the basin when three mounted figures appeared to the west of Tirnanog.

"What?! They've taken to arms already?! And without me?!" cried Oifey, alarmed.

"They must have found our hideout while we were out on reconnaissance." said the blue-haired archer next to him. Frowning, he said "Gee, I hope Lord Seliph and the others are alright."

The blond-haired swordsman next to him snorted. "Priorities Lester! I'd be more worried about my pretty little sister if I were you. Lana might be out there running around with a healing stave, while some maniac soldier with a hungry look in his eyes is chasing her down." That comment caused Lester's eyes to widen in alarm. Turning to Oifey, the blond said "Oifey, we need to hurry. The others could be waist deep in gore by now."

Oifey nodded at this. "You're right. Very well then, Delmund, Les-" he tuned to see that the blue haired archer was no longer behind him. He glanced down the hill to see Lester galloping as fast as he could, already halfway to the others. "-ter...oh my... let's catch up with them." he said, suddenly straightening in his saddle, and sending his horse in to a sprint. Delmund smirked and followed suit.


Meanwhile, there was a break in the fighting, and Ulster stopped Larcei so as to have a little brother-sister chat. "Larcei, are you alright?" she nodded in response. "Well take it easy, alright? We don't need you pulling any of your stunts out here."

With that, she glared at him. "Excuse me?! I'm not a child! you don't have to speak to me like that!"

Ulster raised his hands, "OK! you don't have to get all riled up... heh, so that's what she was like."


"Your attitude. Shanan always told us that you had our mother's iron will."

Larcei glanced to the side. "Mother... I have no memories of her whatsoever. How about you, Ulster?"

"What?! of course I don't remember anything about her! We're twins, remember? I would know exactly as much as you would." Hesitating for a moment, he said "From the stories Shanan told us about her, I would've thought that she'd show up by now if she was alive. I suppose that means that she really is dead."

At that, Larcei whirled around angrily. "Don't you dare! You promised me that you'd never say that! She's alive somewhere. END. OF. STORY. Odo help you if I ever catch you saying that ever again...!"

"So what, are you really going to fight against what our father plainly told us?"

"Our father was a cheeky, childish, little thief. I don't know what mother saw in him. He probably stole the keys to her heart from some tall, strong, Isaacian warrior man and then proceeded to steal everything from her very soul. He would steal from a vulture. Probably did when he stole away from us and across the Yied when we were seven."

"Now Larcei, you're being irrational and unfair towards father."

"You're only defending him because he gave you his wind sword!"

"And he gave you mom's steel blade, silver sword, and thunder sword." Ulster said, pointing out the numerous armaments adorning her belt.

"Hmph, I'm going straight to Ganeishire. I have to kill something now, and I might as well take down that slimy wolf Harold now. That dastard has to pay for what he did to my friends." she said as she ran off.

"What makes you think he's even... and there she goes. How does she know that man is even there? For the record, how does she even know his name? She's only ever referred to him as 'that imperial general'. Well, whatever, she's as deadly as ever it seems. Boy, I pity the man who winds up stealing HER heart. He won't be the head of the family, THAT'S for sure." looking ahead to see oncoming horsemen, he got into a battle stance. "Welp, time to get back to fighting it seems."


While this was happening, Lester caught up with his sister. "Lana? what are you doing out here in the middle of a battlefield?"

"OH! Lester! I, um, was worried about Lord Seliph's well-being."

Smiling, he said, "I bet you were. Worried that he'd find some other pretty healer girl to dote upon his every little nick and bruise, winning his heart, and eventually finding her way into his..."

"Lester!" she cried, cheeks burning red.

"...instead of you. Anyways, you need to be careful out here! Mother would be a wreck if anything happened to you... where is mother anyways?"

"She's still working at the convent at Tirnanog, praying for our safe return. She saw me off personally, by the way, just in case you thought that I ran off. We didn't take off with Midayle either, she stayed home with mother. We know better than taking a child to the battlefield, and well, at least mother will have someone to keep her company."

"I see... Lana, we need to do our very best out here. For her sake, and for the sake of our missing father. Someday, we'll be able to return to our real home in Jungby."

"I hope so, Lester." she heard a grunt, and turned to see that Delmund had been grazed by a hand axe. With that, she picked up here stave, and went to him.


"Harold, come out! I know you're there!" Larcei's voice cried, echoing through the halls of Ganeishire.

"I'm right here in the throne room rebel brat!" came the pompous reply. Larcei raised her sword and went in to see Harold seated alone in the throne room.

"Harold. I've waited a long time for this."

"You act as if you know me."

"I'll never forget you. Right here, 7 years ago, you staged a raid on our home here. When you entered this room, ordered your men to seize us. Then you grabbed my best friend, pinned her to the wall while she cried for help, and proceeded to tear her...!"

"Ah yes... heh, heh, heh... she was a squirmer, and a screamer. But oh, she satisfied! I still have the scar from that hidden knife. It still throbs from time to time. That's why I still remember her. It was worth it though." he said grinning smugly. "And now you shall meet her same fate. Guards, SEIZE HER!" he shouted. Long moments passed where nothing happened and Larcei's furious glare continued to burn through his skull. "Damn it, where the HELL are they?"

"You'll find them out at sea." was Larcei's cold-as-ice reply.

"At sea? Hang it all! I told them to wait in the battlements!"

"They're still there. Their bodies anyway. Like I said, you'll find their heads in the sea."

"Insolent brat! So you consider yourself a warrior? Come at me then!" Harold said raising his blade arm. "With this hand I shall-Arggghhhh!"

"What hand?" replied Larcei as she completed her literally disarming swipe. She switched hands and slashed his legs off. "What do you know, silver really is the best metal for cutting flesh. At least dad was honest about something."

Harold was in shock, and he tried to crawl away from her with his remaining limb. Larcei walked up to him and kicked him unto his back. "M...M...Mercy, please! I beg of you!"

"So. You pillage, murder, and rape without showing any pity or mercy, and now, you plead for the kind acts?! NO! You robbed me of my best friend..." She then stabbed him in the crotch. "You will never rob anyone, of anything, ever again." She withdrew her sword, walked up to the throne and sat in it, shaking.


Outside, the others had just finished clearing up the battlefield. Then they all gathered in front of the Ganeishire gates. All except for Larcei.

"Where is she?" Seliph asked.

"She went in earlier to confront Harold." Ulster replied.

"Alone? And you let her?" Oifey cried.

"She had a grudge to resolve, and she was thoroughly pissed off when she went in." was the answer

"Ah! I'd better go in and seize the castle then." was all that Seliph said.

They all entered the throne room and congratulated Larcei on her work. All except Lana, who was starring at the grisly sight that was Harold.

"We need an army? Hah! Who needs an army when we have Larcei? She eats soldiers for breakfast. She's an army all in herself" said Delmund laughing hysterically at the old man who had approached them, offering to bring in volunteers for the liberation of Isaac. His comment was met with a frown and a backhand from Oifey.

Suddenly, Lana yelled. "He's still alive!" she cried, seeing Harold reaching piteously towards her. Suddenly she heard a twang, and Harold dropped dead, with an arrow in between his eyes. She looked at her brother who shook his head silently.

"I guess this is it then. The first step in the grand destiny you and Shanan have been preparing me for." said Seliph to Oifey. "Seeing how easily we took this place, and seeing how eager the people are to help us, I think we have good chances. Change is coming, and soon, Jugdral will suffer no more."

Chapter Text

"Boy! Larcei must have been pissed! Ganeishire has been completely trashed! If I didn't know better, I would say that the walls were painted red... The smell would tell me differently, I guess."

"Ah, there you are Seliph. I haven't seen you for a while." said a voice from behind him.

"Wha-OH! Lewyn! I mean King! I mean King Lewyn of Silesse!" said Seliph excitedly.

Lewyn just sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Seliph, just drop the 'King' bit ok? After Belhalla, the empire took over my homeland. Silesse has long since perished... and my mother with it." he said, sighing sadly.

"Meanwhile I have once again been reduced to a lowly bard, and just as was I going to accept the responsibility of kingship too. I spent my whole life running from the throne and the responsibility it entailed, meanwhile when I finally decided to grow up and take responsibility, looking after the people and siring heirs, I have it all taken away from me. I could have had it when I didn't want it, and when I finally wanted it, I couldn't have it. Heh, that's the big irony of my life." he said, chucking to himself.

He then re-diverted his attention back to Seliph and said "Don't ever call me king again Seliph. It doesn't befit me at all, and I don't care whether you've been told the contrary."

"Oh...Ok Lewyn. I...I'm sorry, alright?"

"Don't apologize. I'm just giving you a hard time. (I'm serious though, don't call me...) anyways, I see that you have finally made your move. You've gotten a good start. There is no better place in the world to raise an anti-imperial army than right here in Isaac."

"I agree, Lewyn. The Isaacian people are very strong, and their hatred for the empire is unparalleled. Of course, amassing that army would be easier if Shanan were here."

"Oh? Shanan's not here? Where exactly did he run off to?"

"He went to the Yied Shrine. He got word that his family heirloom, the divine Blaming, is there, so he went to retrieve it." Frowning, he continued "But... it is said that that is the headquarters for the Loptyr sect, so we are all a bit worried about him."

"Don't worry, Seliph. Shanan's of the Odo bloodline. A family known for it's expert swordsmen, all as dodgy as hell. Literally." He turned to leave, but then stopped short. "Oh! I just remembered, I had a favor I wanted to ask of you." he said, strolling back up to Seliph.

"Ok! What is it Lewyn? I'll do anything!"

"Really? Anything?" said Lewyn smirking. "You know Seliph, you really shouldn't say things like that. People might take advantage of loose wording like that. Anyways, the favor." Turning to the side he called out "Julia! would you come over here for a moment?"

A slim, silver haired girl of about 17 stepped up next to Lewyn, and she looked to Seliph with an anxious expression and folded hands. Lewyn proceeded to properly introduce her. "Seliph, this is Julia. I found her in a bloody heap near Belhalla seven years ago. I could tell immediately that she had been through a lot. I took her to a remote part of Silesse so that she could recover... but when she did, I found that she had lost everything- memory wise that is. The only thing that she could tell me about her past was her name. I've been taking care of her ever since."

Seliph made a concerned face "Oh my! Poor Julia! I'm truly sorry for you ma'm, but... what does she have to do with me Lewyn?"

"isn't it obvious?" Seliph shook his head no. "I want you to marry her!"

"!?" Seliph took several steps backwards, reeling in shock from the abrupt statement, but Julia just looked at him rather serenely.

"No, not really; just proving my point about promising to do anything." Lewyn said chuckling. Seliph visibly relaxed. "I do, however need you to take care of her for me. I have business to take care of in Leonstar and... honestly, she would just slow me down. It's a dangerous place, and a lot of unneeded attention would be drawn to a young, beautiful girl such as her. So I would like you to take her off of my hands while I go take care of things."

"Alright, Lewyn, I'll look after her. Go ahead and leave her with me, but hurry back. She will probably be very uncomfortable until you return. I can take care of her like you do, but... not in that other way. Why would I marry a girl I just met? It makes no sense!"

"It made plenty of sense to your father. Your parents met twice, and then declared their undying love for each other and got married."


"No one told you this? Really? That just sounds irresponsible of your guardians. Yes, Seliph, that's how your parents got together, or at the very least, that's the story everyone told me when I joined Sigurd's army. Your aunt Ethlyn wouldn't stop going on about how romantic it all was." said Lewyn, rolling his eyes. "Anyways, I should be back by the time you take Rivough. In the meantime, I wish you good luck." and with that he spun about and walked away.

"You too Lewyn!" Seliph called after him. He then turned to Julia. "Alright Julia, I promise I won't let anything happen to you, so you don't have to worry about a thing. I'll stick with protecting you for now, and then someday, maybe I'll be able to protect us all. That is my wish." he continued, looking dreamily out the window. "To be a strong warrior like my father. To earn the love and respect of the people. For everyone to trust that I won't let anything happen to them."

Julia put her hand on his shoulder. "That sounds wonderful, Lord Seliph. I am sure that someday that you will make that wish come true."

Seliph turned and looked into her loving eyes. "Thank you Julia. Now come with me. I'd like you to meet my companions."


"Everyone, this is Julia. We're going to be taking care of her while Lewyn is away." Seliph told his assembled companions. He then proceeded to tell them her backstory. Everyone felt sorry for her, and made personal introductions.

After that was done, Lana decided to have a private discussion with Julia. They talked about dreams and desires, and then Julia expressed a desire to help out. To which Lana responded "Oh, then take this." she said handing Julia a Mend staff. "We could use more healers, so now you can help in the most essential way. Warfare isn't all inflicting injury, it's repairing the damaged bodies too. That way, the brave can return to their loved ones. Use the staff well, and if it breaks, just bring it over and I can fix it. Mom taught me how to care for staves. That goes for anything you need too. Just come and see me and I will help you out, ok?

Julia nodded appreciatively. She then went in and hugged Lana. "Thank you so much! Now I can look after Lord Seliph's well being while he looks after mine. He promised to protect me, and now I can do the same for him."

"Oh?" said Lana, looking into Julia's eyes and bolted upright when she saw... love. Julia was in love with Seliph too. Despite only having just met him. "I... I see, well, you go do that, and I hope you are happy. I... I won't get in your way." Lana said sadly.

"Thank you Lana! You're so wonderful!" said Julia giving her a big hug and walking away cheerfully, unaware of the tears falling down Lana's cheeks, completely unnoticed by everyone.

Almost everyone. A figure was watching the whole exchange from behind the wall. "So Julia loves Seliph, hmm. Maybe this is my big chance! I'll have to meet up with her at some point... not now, it's to soon. Maybe i can help her win Seliph, and she can help me win over Lana! Hmm... Lana seems willing to help Julia with that, so maybe I could use the friend influence... wait is Lana... crying? I'd better go fix that! I can't have my beloved staining her pretty face!" he thought to himself, before leaving his hiding spot and walking up to her. "Hi Lana. something wrong?"

She turned to look at him. "Oh, hi Ulster. Um no... I'm just, a little jealous, that's all. I...I didn't want anyone to see me like this. What would people think if they knew I..." she looked away, hanging her head in shame.

"Shh. It's ok, cry if you need to. We all have those moments where envy gets the best of us. There's nothing wrong with that as long as it doesn't consume you. Mph, Julia's a pretty girl, it's no surprise that you would be a little jealous of her. But I know you won't let that take over your liking of her. I know you'll put your better nature first, and still be her friend. Just be proud in that you can be so brave. Few people can be brave enough to do that, and I know that you are one of those few."

Lana smiled as she looked into Ulster's eyes. "Thanks Ulster, you always know what to say. You make every word count. I love having a friend like you." she said resting her head on his chest."

"Me too Lana, me too."

Chapter Text

Our heroes, however, would not have long to rest. Word of Harold's fall soon reached the ears of King Danan in Rivough. He wasn't happy. "Dammit Harold! You promised me an easy victory, and now look. Thanks to your incompetence, I now have a full blown rebellion to quash! If you weren't already dead, I would strike you down where you stood." Turning to the messenger, he said "And just where the HELL were my sons?! Why did they not aid Harold?"

"Well, sir, you didn't tell them to. You thought Harold would be enough." said the man to his right. His response was met with a knife hand to the nose, causing it to bleed.

"Silence Bolgi! Speak out of turn again and I swear I will use an axe on you!" he yelled harshly. Then, turning back to the messenger, he proceeded to bark orders. "You! Messenger brat! Send word to my sons that they are to attack the rebels at once!"

"Yessir!" He said scrambling away from the throne room. "Oh boy, lords Johan and Johalva aren't going to be happy about this. They might get themselves killed trying to get that Isaacian princess away from the rebel group." he thought to himself. The only reason he was in a hurry was because he knew he'd be killed if he didn't hurry.


As trouble brewed for the liberation army and the two young lords, none noticed the winged horse that appeared over the western mountains. It flew straight for a while, then landed near Johalva's castle. As the beast snorted and bent to eat some grass, the rider leaned over and patted its nose.

"Whew, I'm sorry Mahnya. I know we must be a heavy load for you, but I just need you to take us a little further babe."

"Heh, 'babe', you talk as if it were your child... or lover." chuckled the boy sitting behind her.

The rider turned around and scowled at him "Arthur, would you kindly shut the hell up? We've made it this far, so please do me a favor and put a lid on it!"

Arthur raised his hands. "Yeash, sorry Fee... You know what? I'll get out of your hair. Iv'e only got a bit further to go, so I guess I can walk from here."

"Oh? Where are you going anyways? You never told me when you asked for a ride... and I guess it's kind of stupid that I didn't ask a lot sooner."

"Really? Ya' think so? Obviously your mother never told you 'don't talk to strangers' or 'never take on hitchhikers.' That, or you just completely ignored her." his comment was met with another scowl. "As for where I'm going... Alster."

Fee did a double take "A-Alster?! Are you nuts? That's like 500 miles south of here! You're going to have to cross the sea to get there. You're not walking, that's for sure!"

Arthur smiled "I don't mind walking. I'm not in a real hurry anyways."

"Then why do you have to go there at all?"

"I have reason to believe that my little sister is there. We were separated when I was young. Soldiers came to our house and forcibly seized my mother and my sister when I was 5. They didn't get me because my mother told me to run, so I hid. When I came back to the house, they were gone, and the house was a burnt husk."

"Oh my! What about your father? Did they..."

"My father left home before this to go ask his brother for aid. Mom cried and told him it was foolishness and said that he wouldn't be coming back if he left. He promised he would and then everything would be just fine... mom was the one who was right. Actually, considering the timing, I have always thought that the tip off came from my father. Maybe he was... never mind."

"Then... who raised you, Arthur?"

"I did." he said. "With the help of some of the natives of the Silessian backwoods and some other orphans. Iv'e spent most of my life training in the magical arts... not like Iv'e had much else to do. I found my father's Elfire and Thunder tomes in the house, so Iv'e been using those. Making a living in the wild, isn't pleasant, and it isn't exactly easy to get news about quote-unquote insignificant individuals. So I spent a lot of time simply wondering what happened to her. When I finally heard descriptions of a girl in Alster matching my sister's, well that's all it took."

"Well then. I wish you luck Arthur. I hope you succeed in finding her... you're not the only one with a missing sibling you know. I haven't seen my brother in a while."

"Oh? Were you separated too?"

Fee shook her head no. "We were together until he left to search for our missing father. You see, he left on some mysterious errand when I was a baby. Mom waited for years for him to come back."

"What's she up to now? You know, now that she's all alone?"

Fee's expression changed to one of sorrow. "Oh, you see, about three years ago she caught the Wasting Blight. Dad knew how to cure it, apparently, so that's when Ced decided to leave home and go on a search for him. About 9 months ago, it took a turn for the worse, and...well...she died." she finished, on the verge of tears.

"Oh... man... Look, I'm sorry that I touched upon such a sore subject."

"It's alright, you already touched upon all the insulting topics, so I guess it was time you moved onto a sore one."

Arthur recoiled at that comment "You know... I'm not that bad of a guy." he said, sounding extremely hurt. "I just... I just lack social skills okay? I don't know how to talk to people, but I talk a lot, so I come across as... you know."

"Yea, I know" she said dryly. "So what's your plan anyways?"

"My...plan? Umm... that's a pretty astute question actually." Arthur said shrugging his shoulders. "I guess I can't just go barging into the palace, grab her and go now can I? I... I didn't actually think this through." he admitted sheepishly.

"The palace!? Why the palace?!"

"My mother was King Blume's younger sister, is what I eventually found out. Apparently she and my father were childhood friends and nobles who fell in love while fighting in a failed revolution about 17 years ago. It's why we made our living in the backwoods of Silesse, apparently. The queen was very friendly those who fought in it, because they helped her out at one point."

"!" Fee straightened in her saddle. "Was this 'revolution' lead by Lord Sigurd of Chalphy, perchance?"

"!?" now it was Arthur's turn to look surprised. "How did you know?"

"What a coincidence! My parents also fought alongside Lord Sigurd. I was spoon-fed stories about those times. Actually, I have received word that Lord Sigurd's son is raising a liberation army to fight against the empire, right here in Isaac. I thought it was my calling, so I grabbed all of my mum's gear along with mine, and I left."

"Really?" said Arthur, interest piqued. "You know what? I think I'll join them. Maybe they can help me out. Can I go with you?"

"You bet!" said Fee enthusiastically. "It'll be my pleasure. It's you and me, partner."

"Partner? Very well then, let's go, they'll be waiting for us, even if they don't know it."

Chapter Text

"Seliph! We've got trouble!"called Lester, rushing into the dining hall. Everyone looked up from their meals

"What is it Lester?" Seliph asked.

"King Danan has sent word to his sons to attack us immediately. They're on their way here."

Seliph was surprised by this news. "Really? You know, I half thought they'd let us be. You know, for Larcei's sake."

Delmund chose to cut in at that "Well, three cheers for our leader's brilliant thought process! I mean, they'd totally disobey a direct order from their powerful, well connected dad just because one girl that they both happen to like just might be a part of the enemy army! Sheer critical thinking brilliance! We are sure to win this war with this brilliant leader guiding us!"

"Delmund, sometimes I wonder just how, exactly, I've been able to put up with you for all this time." said Oifey, sighing and rubbing his forehead at this snide remark. He then looked at Seliph and said "However, ignoring the way he said it, Delmund is correct. We've known all along that we might have to cross blades with them."

"Yes, I know that, but... isn't there a chance that they might... you know... switch sides? I've heard that neither of them are exactly fond of their dad."

Oifey shook his head "Maybe one or the other will... maybe. If we somehow manage to convince one, I doubt that we'll be able to convince the other. Judging from what I've heard of them, those two boys hate each others' guts. They definitely wouldn't want to compete with one another for Larcei's affection."

"But there is a chance we can convince both of them?" Seliph asked. Oifey shrugged. Seliph took that as a sign that they could try, so he looked in Larcei's direction and said "Ok then, we'll just have to try it and see. Larcei, can you-"

"No." she said harshly but firmly.


"I have only acted nice towards them so far because they knew where we lived. The only reason I ever let them think they might have a chance of wooing me was because I was thinking about YOUR safety. I am not about to offer myself to either of those swine sons. And yes, I'm calling them that. I know that they're not nearly as bad as you would expect, but..."

"Hear me out Larcei. I said nothing about offering yourself to them. I'm not even asking you to try and seduce them. I want you to try to convince them, and YOU get to pick the method of convincing. I'm sure their hormones will do part of your job, but I think you can motivate them in other ways." The dining hall went dead quiet as everyone stopped eating and stared at Seliph.

"Yes, I know what she's probably going to, but if that could get them to take our side..." he admitted, shrugging his shoulders casually. Everyone resumed their meals. Seliph redirected his attention to Larcei, who was giving him a smug smirk.

"Alright Seliph, I'll see what I can do." she said.


Johan was closer to their location at this point, so she made a straight shot for his army, with a few companions and her brother following at a close distance. Johan was very happy to see her. As soon as she approached he began to speak poetically. "Larcei my beloved, oh how Iv'e yearned for this day to come. The day you come to be at my side."

"Ok, seriously Johan? What in the world are you spouting about now? Did you give yourself a concussion by listening to your dad for to long? Is that why you talk so weird, you have a constant brain bleed?" she asked. Internally she made a mental note to get Seliph back for getting her to do this, completely forgetting that she had agreed to it.

"Your words soothe like a bird's song... Your eyes sparkle like stars, the thought of being without you, is one I cannot bear." continued Johan, completely ignoring Larcei's snide remark. The soldiers under his command all looked at one another, some even rolled their eyes. One even made a gagging motion.

"Ok, now I'm disgusted. Do you take anything seriously Johan? This is a battlefield. In case you didn't notice. No one appreciates your poetry. Anywhere." Johan's soldiers began to mutter in agreement, but he shut them up with a glare.

"Look, I'm only here because we're hoping that you will join us... join me if you really want to set your standards that low. We know your dad is a greedy jerk, and that you have no love for him or his policies. Meanwhile, you know that we have the love and support of the Isaacian people, and they would not be happy with you if you stopped us, pretty much eliminating any chance of you or your men finding a willing lover. I for one, will not let you even BEGIN to make trouble for us, so you have a simple choice." she raised her sword "Join us, or die."

"No need for violence my love. For my unremitting love for you is strong enough to cross the bounds of insanity!"

"Cross the what now?"

"Let the troops know we're taking sides with the liberation army!" Johan declared

"We're right here sir. We know. We knew you would probably take this route too. We'll follow you to meet the new commander." said one of the soldiers.

"Very good Ferris. From this day forward, we'll be fighting for love, justice, and Larcei!" Johan proclaimed loudly, and then he promptly set his horse on a sprint to Ganeishire.

"Well... That wasn't all that bad... actually, it was quite easy." Larcei thought to herself as she shrugged and followed him, running straight past her brother.

Ulster looked at the soldiers with a baffled glance. "And... you guys are totally ok with switching sides and fighting against overwhelming odds?"

Ferris stopped his horse, signaled the other horsemen to go on, and shrugged. "I'm sick and tired of being a hate figure around these parts. All I get is contempt whenever I walk through the villages. I narrowly avoid getting stoned to death whenever I leave the castle and trying to do some shopping. My family doesn't get that same level of contempt, but they are still heavily shunned."

"So, couldn't you just report it to your superiors?" Ulster asked him. Hastily, he added "Not that I want you to... I know what THAT would result in."

"Meh, you rebels have the support of every citizen in the country. Things would go worse for me and my loved ones if I fought against you. If I join you, then I have a way to get back into the people's good graces... Besides, King Danan is a huge-"

"I'm Assuming that all of the other soldiers agree with you." said Ulster, interrupting. All the soldiers that were still nearby responded with affirmative grunts. "Ok then. I officially think that this is going to be very easy."


This whole exchange was viewed by another group of soldiers on foot to the west. Their leader was not happy.

"Damn it! Johan beat me to her." cried Johalva. "I'm so going to kill him! Men, prepare to attack the rebel army."

"But sir, we're outmatched. They have horses, and a bunch of Isaacian swordsmen. Swords beat axe's, remember?" cried one of the soldiers in protest.

"Well, maybe we wouldn't have that first problem, if a certain SOMEONE hadn't been sleeping on guard duty. Isn't that right Jonson?"

"But sir" he whined. "How could I have known someone would have been stupid enough to..."

"Let you have guard duty. After this farce with my brother is over and I get my girl, YOU are getting a serious decrease in pay." he shouted, practically foaming at the mouth. Then turning to his men, he said "Now, if there aren't anymore whines to be uttered, then CHARGE!" and so they did.


"Welcome to the Liberation Army, Johan. We..."

"Lord Seliph! Lord Seliph!" cried a young soldier riding up to the young lord. "Johalva's army is charging straight for us. They look ready to attack."

"Oh. Then I guess we'll have to face one of the Dozel's after all. Thank you for the warning Dimna."

"My brother's coming here? He must have seen me talking to Larcei. Don't worry sir, my men and I can handle this. That, I foresee. I'll handle this little family matter, Johalva won't be missed."

("What's with the rhyming?") Seliph thought privately, but what he was actually going to say was interrupted by Delmund.

"Are you so willing to kill your own kin for a girl, Johan? A girl who doesn't even particularly like you? Do you really think that your weakling axemen will fare all that well against his weakling axemen? Do you really think Larcei will appreciate..."

"Delmund! PLEASE!" cried Seliph, facepalming. "Do you seriously have to be such a-"

"Well, yea! SOMEONE has got to be the logical one around here, and I don't see any of you guys doing it."

To frustrated to argue, Seliph turned to Johan and said, "We'll help you...take care of him." he said, swallowing.

"Well then, let the fun begin. Lead the way commander."


The liberation army made a beeline to where Johalva's army was rapidly approaching. When they came into each other's sights, however, Johan and Delmund both burst out laughing. Johan, however was the only one with anything to say. "Wha-seriously? My brother must be dumber than I thought! Where are his horses? This'll be easy!" he exclaimed before charging forward. The rest of the liberation army followed suit. They quickly started cutting through soldiers, sometimes taking injury, but these were quickly remedied by the combined efforts of Lana and Julia. Johalva's group, however, had no such relief. While cutting a path to his brother, Johan noticed that someone else was attacking Johalva's troops from the rear. Taking advantage of the opening this made, he made a beeline for Johalva.

Johalva saw his brother's approach and called out to him. "Well if it isn't my idiot brother! Not only do you steal my woman, but now you think you can take down your superior! I don't know which is worse- your arrogance, or your lack of shame!" he cried, practically spitting out the words.

"I shall ignore your insults coarse, considering that I didn't forget my horse!"

"Tha-That's not my fault! Someone let them escape from our stables! We'd be on equal footing-in literal terms anyways. So if you think you are better than me-(Which you aren't) then why don't you get off your high horse and fight me man to man!"

"If you really were better than me, you wouldn't need me to dismount! Surrender!"

"Never! What was I supposed to do when I saw you claim her..."

"You could have used your brain and watched more closely, and then you would have realized that he didn't 'claim me' as you say; and then could have not attacked us in the first place, Johalva!" said a female voice from the side.

"L-Larcei?" The brothers said in unison.

"Now if you are done comparing axes, you could actually do something useful with your life, and join us in taking down the imperials!"

"Work with him?!" cried Johalva. "NEVER! He'll just keep trying to steel you away from me, and I wan't have it. You belong to me Larcei!"

"Belong?!" said Larcei sharply, pupils dilating, grip tightening on her sword. "Did you say I Belong to you?"

"You are mine. You just haven't realized it yet. You will once this is over." Johalva said smugly.

"I. DON'T. BELONG. TO. ANYONE!" she shrieked, and with a burst of energy, flew at Johalva. For a second, she seemed to become the wind, and then, she was behind him.

For a moment, Johalva stood erect in shock, and then... "Ugh... Larcei... I'm... sorry..." and he collapsed in a heap.

Johan stood, bewildered, to the side, and then Larcei turned around and said to him "No man will ever call me his property. If anything, I will declare ownership of any man that I marry, IF that ever happens. Never forget that." and she walked away.

Chapter Text

"Well... there goes any hope of him joining us..." said Seliph, staring at Johalva's crumpled form.

"The womanizer had it coming." said Larcei tartly.

"Just because he was possessive, doesn't mean that he was a womanizer. Larcei, don't you think..."

"Don't you dare say that I overreacted, Seliph, or I swear, I will hit you with the pommel of all five of my swords where it really hurts."

Seliph promptly stepped away and moved his hand to cover the spot subconsciously, but then quickly removed it. "Alright then, I won't. So let's forget that, and thank our surprise allies."

"Wait... what?" asked Larcei confused.

"Too caught up in bloodlust again, eh Larcei?" said Delmund, chuckling. Johan, Seliph, and Larcei all turned and stared at him. "What?"

"When did you get here? Shouldn't you be fighting the enemy?" Larcei asked.

"WOW you haven't been paying attention. What enemy? The bugs? Or perhaps you mean this vast field of corpses- because then it would be a pathetically one-sided fight."


"Assuming your'e better nature won't let you kill him..." butted in Seliph. "Let's turn our attention to the twosome that helped us out by attacking the enemy from the rear." turning to the mentioned pair, he said "Thank you for your aid. Now, may I please ask you for your names?"

"Yes. Yes you may. I'm Arthur, a mage from Silesse, and she's Fee... I don't think I have to tell you what she is."

"No, no you don't." said Seliph, regarding Fee's pegasus.

"We came here hoping you'd let us join you in your fight against the empire." Fee told him.

"Hmm... Ok! I like your resumé." said Seliph cheerily.

"Hold on, time out here." everyone's attention turned to Delmund. "Word has reached Silesse already?" Fee nodded, and Arthur shrugged. "How? We left Tirnanog about two weeks ago. How can word of our fight have reached there already?"

"How else? Via a group of pegasus knights hearing about it while visiting Tirnanog. If word could travel to Rivough and back by horseback in that amount of time, then a flying horse should be able to make the same length of a journey in that same amount of time. Maybe even less, if there are minimal to no stops. And anyways, I left home the day I heard, grabbed Arthur from a tree by the coast, and came straight here to Isaac."

"And anyways, just because we're Silessians, why assume we came straight from Silesse? We could have had business right here in Isaac, and heard just recently. Why assume anything wiseguy?" said Arthur, staring straight at Delmund. A lot of chuckling was heard from the sidelines. That's when the six realized that the rest of the army had finished cleaning things up and had joined them. (Well... five of them anyways. Johan had noticed, but he was still so shocked by Larcei's outburst at his brother that he had been rendered unable to say anything.)

Anyways, Lester was laughing particularly hard. "And here I thought that Delmund only GAVE that kind of response. The receiving end Delmund... how does it feel to be on it?" he said.

Delmund scowled and glared at him, then at Fee, and then when he turned to Arthur, his scowl turned into a smug grin. "Am I the only one who noticed that she said she got Arthur from a tree? Care to elaborate?"

Arthur turned pale and looked away as Fee gave a response. "Oh, I had just passed over the last mountain before the Silessian coast, when I saw him caught by his cloak on the topmost branch of a rather tall pine tree. Honestly, I have no idea how he got up there. I felt kind of bad for him, so I got him off and offered him a ride. He asked where I was going. When I told him Isaac, he accepted the offer, and well... here we are."

"Really?!" said Delmund grinning broadly. "Care to elaborate some more, Arthur?" everyone's attention turned to Arthur. Seliph and Oifey were to curious to prevent poor Arthur's interrogation from continuing.

"Well..." said Arthur rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. " I had an... incident...occur to me while trying to find a way to get to Alster. And... well... let's just say that there was a... misunderstanding...between me, and a squad of pegasus knights. It involved a bunch of snow, a bottle, a white handkerchief, and my use of a term that I didn't realize had a double meaning. I mean... how was I supposed to know THAT meant..." he stopped, turned bright red, and began to look quite antsy.

Delmund was going to pry some more, but Seliph stopped him. "How did you find us?" he said, switching the subject for Arthur's sake.

Fee answered for the highly embarrassed Arthur. "We landed and discussed our plans by Sophara. Since we were close, we went into the castle town to see if we could glean some information about your whereabouts. Fortunately, we arrived at about the same time as the messenger from Rivough. When we learned that they were ordered to attack you, we decided to follow them straight to you. Though we didn't want to risk them defeating you and a speedy surprise attack, so we decided to inhibit them by releasing their horses. I opened the stable doors, while Arthur knocked out the guard, which was kinda overkill, honestly, he was already asleep, and drove them out with his tomes." Arthur held up his three spell books for all to see.

Seliph blinked "Oh! Wow... thanks for doing that too, by the way. We-Oifey! What are you doing?" he asked that because Oifey had marched up, grabbed Arthur's thunder tome, and was examining it.

"I thought this looked familiar." he thought out-loud.

"Um, yea... it's a thunder tome. Mages usually own at least one, well I guess I'm assuming, what I mean is-" said Fee

"Not with this kind of cover. This one's been customized, and yup... I know who had it done." said Oifey, interrupting her as he examined the inscription on the inside cover, and handed the tome back to Arthur. "This was a gift from your mother to your father. I know you got it from them. You look just like your dad... except for your eyes and hair, those are your mother's... and your cloak is black, Azel's was red."

"You... knew my parents? I never really did. I haven't seen either of them since I was five years old. I know my mom's gone, but... I have no idea where he is."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Tailtiu and Azel were the good souls of their respective households. Everyone thought they were just perfect together."

"Oifey... his parents were in my father's army?" Seliph asked.

Oifey nodded. "Yes, his mother was the middle child of the upcoming generation of the duchy of Freege. His father, was the bastard son of the duke of Velthomer... meaning that he was the emperor's half brother. I remember hearing that they had been close despite that." a murmur of surprise rippled through the army.

Arthur in particular, was very surprised to hear of his connection to the highest ranking authority on the continent. "Wow... I heard that they were both nobles, but..."

"If your magic abilities are anything like those of your parents, then you would be a very useful member of our army." Oifey told him.

"Stop, stop, stop! This is a bit much. I've lived on the street all my life. You're giving me honors and respect that Iv'e never received before. This is all... it's a lot to take in. Look, I don't care about any supposed noble connections I have. What I do care about, is that my little sister has been raised apart from me, apparently in Alster, for all of her life, and I just hope if we take on the empire, I can get her back."

"Well, Arthur. Currently our goal is just the liberation of Isaac. If we're successful, then we can continue to build up the fight against the empire, and then maybe we can go there next. Liberating the occupied countries first is a better plan than bringing the fight straight to Grannvale."

Fee coughed a little, redirecting all attention to her. "If you boys are done fawning over Arthur." she said "I'd like to point out that my parents fought alongside Sir Sigurd too. Mom always told me stories about it while I was growing up in the palace."

Arthur nodded a little... and then did a double take. "Waitaminute. The palace?"

"Wait... that face... that lance... your'e Ferry and Lewyn's daughter, the princess of Silesse!" exclaimed Oifey


"My lady." Oifey said as he bent over and kissed her hand. "It is an honor to meet you."

"Oh!" She said surprised. "At least SOMEone knows how to treat a lady around here!" she said looking directly at Arthur... who looked like he just had an aneurism.

"Princess? Your'e the...oh fermented refuse! Iv'e been rude to...!"

"Fermented refuse? Who says that? You know, for someone who supposedly grew up on the streets, your knowledge of curse words is surprisingly lacking. Come on, just say F-" Delmund said. Everyone just ignored him.

"For shame!" declared Fee, shaking her head. "So that's how it is Arthur! Act however you want in front of a girl, and it's alright since you think she's a nobody. But now, now that you know we're both nobles, you finally have a sense of shame!" said Fee pointedly to him.

"But... I thought... I told you... you said... we're both... Iv'e lived... WHY THE HELL DIDN'T YOU TELL ME THIS WHEN WE WERE AT SOPHARA?! Arthur shrieked.

"Speaking of Sophara... shouldn't we take it now that Johalva's gone?" said Ulster, trying to get everyone back on track. Everyone froze and sweat dropped.

"Oh...yeah..we'd... better go and do that." Seliph said.


And so they did, and within four days, the news had reached King Danan. Naturally, he was swearing up a storm. What the HELL happened? WHAT IDIOT TAUGHT THOSE BOYS HOW TO FIGHT?!"

" did sir." Bolgi stammered. His headless form immediately crumpled onto the floor.

"Schmidt!" he hollered, "You get on out there! Use that axe I gave you and take our castles back!"

"Yessir. You can count on me. We'll reclaim your traitorous son's keep first, and then we'll deal with the rest of the rebel army. Their time is up." he said with bravado.

"Very good Schmidt. Don't you dare mess this up!" King Danan said. After Schmidt left, Danan turned to one of the servants. "You there! Clean this mess up!"

"I hope and pray Lord Seliph's army arrives soon." thought the servant to himself.

Chapter Text

"Well, at least the town is in decent shape. I guess Johalva was a somewhat competent ruler. The people don't really look all that downtrodden in comparison to what we've seen elsewhere." Oifey said as the Liberation army wandered about in the town while Seliph established his authority inside the castle.

Even Larcei had to agree with that statement. "I guess that at least some of the Dozels do have some semblance of decency in their hearts."

Johan smiled weakly and nodded. "Yea, we..."


!? Everyone looked at Arthur, who had yelped and jumped back at least a foot. "Sorry! It's just... he's been deathly silent this whole time. We've been on our way back here for a while now, and I haven't heard him say a word. I was beginning to think that he couldn't speak!"

"Would you be very chatty if you had just witnessed the girl that you're infatuated with, suddenly go and brutally kill your younger sibling? Regardless of how much you hated him?" Johan asked Arthur softly.

Larcei rolled her eyes. "Brutally? Is there any other kind of killing in war? As for you and me... well, maybe now you will think twice before chasing after girls you know next to nothing about!"

"Advice that Lord Sigurd and Sir Alec really should've taken to heart." Oifey thought to himself. He then looked at the gathered boys. "Where are the girls? And for that matter, where's Ulster?" he questioned internally.

"Hey Arthur!"

"Yea Fee? What's with the bag?"

"What's with the bag is that I just won a ton of money at the arena."


"Yea, you sign up and they pay you if you can beat someone from their fighter lineup. They increase your earnings after each consecutive fighter. 1,000 gold says you can't beat all 7!"

"You're on Fee! Those fighters are going down!" Arthur cried enthusiastically as the two ran towards the arena.

"I hope the other girls aren't doing the same thing." Oifey thought as he watched them run. "No, wait, why am I being an idiot? They don't have any weapons, so they are probably wherever the wounded are, tending to them."


"...And then you tighten it like this, and that should prevent the wound from bleeding or getting infected." said Lana concluding her explanation to Julia.

"But... couldn't we use the staves a couple of times to heal it completely?" asked Julia sweetly.

"No. Staves can't heal everything, and to much use weakens them until they break. It is best to use Heal Staffs to take care of any small wounds that might get infected, and use more potent staves take away most of the damage from a large wound. Though not letting wounds heal naturally could lead to other problems." Lana replied.

"Oh! So that's why...! But... what problems could result?"

"Oh... it's a bit convoluted and complicated...aannnd mother never really explained that to me. Not in a way that can make you understand it better without a few long-winded tangents, that is. I can explain in more detail over time later, but as for an initial lesson, this will do."

"OK! Thank you Lana! You're truly wonderful!"

Lana shook her head. "No, I just helped because you asked. I'm just here to help, their is nothing particularly wonderful about me."

"Nonsense Lana! You're much to kind. There's a man somewhere out there who's going to be very lucky to have you someday."

"Please be me, please be me." Ulster chanted to himself from his hiding spot, almost looking like he was praying.

Lana blushed heavily at that comment. "I... goodness Julia! I'm 17, that is probably still years away! Mom was in her mid twenties when she got married.

"Isn't the legal marrying age 15 though?"

"It's 14, but it only happens that young with arranged marriages. It almost never happens at that age by choice!" Lana paused for a moment, then said "What brought this up, Julia? Are you trying to imply something? Is there a boy with his eye on me? Are you trying to play matchmaker?"

Now it was Julia's turn to blush. "! Nothing like that! I mean, sometimes I look at couples, and pair them up in my head... but that's not what I'm doing now. I am just thinking that maybe guys are attracted to really nice girls, and I think that you fit that description." she said, all flustered.

Lana's pupils shrunk slightly, "Those are suspiciously specific denials... but I won't press the issue" she thought. Outwardly, she said "Well then, thank you Julia! So now that this lesson is done, I'm going to town to get some supplies and have my staves repaired."

"Oh? Did they break?"

"No. I just like to regularly bring them in so that gradual wear and tear doesn't build up and cause them to break in the heat of battle. You should do the same thing with your staff... well, if you have the money for it. Honestly, it's a double edged sword. This constant maintenance can build up over time and..."

Ulster decided that now was the perfect moment to pretend to be just walking in. "Oh, hi Lana! Is... Julia available?"

Lana glanced at the two of them "Maybe I'm wrong about her feelings towards Seliph? Please gods?" she thought to herself. "Yes, I was just leaving." she said, as she strode out of the room and up the stairs without stopping. (she wasn't the eavesdropping type.)

Julia and Ulster stood by each other awkwardly for a few moments before Ulster broke the silence. "So... how are you feeling?"

"Horrified with myself." was the reply.


"I can't believe I just lied to her! I've never lied before... at least I don't think I have... and I'm terrible at it. I don't think she really bought my story! Ulster! I know how you feel about her... and you would make such a wonderful couple too! Can't I just tell her that you like her?"

Please don't, for my sake. I'd be mortified. I know that in the long run, my embarrassment won't matter, but if someone else told her, I'd never be able to live it down, none of the others would let me, not even Oifey."

"Lord Seliph would keep reminding you?"

"Maybe not him, he's to nice for that, I think, but I can't say the same for the others. As soon as it's known, I'll have a bunch of pranks waiting for me, to remind me of it... for months, even years to come! Pranks set by everyone, but by Lester especially."


"Oh, you see, Delmund is sarcastic with his sense of humor, but Lester is a practical joker and a trickster through and through. He likes to make quips and see people's reactions, and he will pull pranks from time to time. They can get rather on the mean time sometimes." Ulster said looking away, then he stopped and quickly turned back to Julia

"Oh! That reminds me! You might want to lock all of your drawers. You know what? Just lock everything up. If Lester so chooses, Lord Seliph could wind up seeing your small-clothes, or worse yet, you IN your small-clothes. Sooner than you might hope anyways."

"WHAT!? HE'D DO THAT?" Julia sputtered, face crimson. "I... I can't believe it! I thought his mother was a priestess!"

"Sometimes those with the strictest upbringing act out the worst when they grow up. Maybe he won't pull something like that, it depends on how he feels about you. His mother, for all of her upbringing and skill as a parent, was never fully able to stop that trait of his altogether. But I do know one thing. Lana is his little sister, and big brothers don't tend to be very eager to give away their little sisters, just ask anyone, or read any book."

"Oh, so would you be the same if he was after Larcei?"

"OK, first of all, he wouldn't even TRY to win her over. He knows how ornery she gets. Second of all, I'd actually be kind of glad to give her away. If I had to, that would mean that her entire personality calmed down, and I won't be her verbal punching bag anymore. Lester, I know is very protective of Lana, so any trick he throws my way would be about ten times worse than if my affections were directed at any other woman."

Julia mulled this over. "Alright then, Ulster. I won't tell her, just don't ask me to flat out lie anymore."

"I never told you to in the first place. I would never try to do something like that to you. Neither would Seliph. In fact, he'd try to help you overcome your guilt. That's the great thing about him. He's the most important person here, but he will always give you his shoulder to cry on, and soft words to help with your guilt."


Johan was standing on top of the eastern tower of Sophia castle, hands on the masonry and eyes half closed as he stared at the moon. He heard a scraping noise behind him, and he turned his head to see Seliph approaching him. Johan spoke first. "You know, men usually stand on castle lookouts when they want to be left alone so that they can ponder the course their life is currently taking them."

"I know" was Seliph's reply. "That's why I knew you'd be out here. On the tower."

"And you guessed which one I'd be on? Your first guess was the proper one?"

Seliph rubbed the back of his head a little and chuckled nervously before answering. "Last try, actually. I started with the southern tower, and went clockwise from there." Johan stared at him. "Anticipating people isn't as easy as it seems. I really should've guessed this was the right one though. It faces your brother's resting place. My first thought was you were looking towards Rivough and your father." Seliph admitted.

"You must've REALLY wanted to talk to me then." Johan said, turning his body and full attention towards Seliph. "You going to tell me that you're sorry for my loss? Or were you going to say we were both fools for thinking we could claim Larcei? 'cause I'm not giving up on that. Her little display earlier just warned me that I need to be more cautious with my words. Not that I actually would have spoken to her like that anyways. That's one point where Johalva and I differed greatly. He viewed women like tools, and I view them as individuals, each one a human being, whose life and happiness is just as important as those of a man."

"You must understand, Johan. Larcei is... prejudiced against men in general. She has every reason to be. Her best friends was raped right in front of her when she was 10. Then that same friend got carted away, never to be seen again. Larcei's cousin saved her from meeting the same fate. Since that day, she has seen many more young girls carted away, never to be seen again, probably slaving the rest of their lives away in a mine somewhere, being watched by soldiers... I know you had nothing to do with that, and she knows it, but still..."

Johan cocked his head a little. "Slaving away in a mine? Is that what you think? Don't you find it funny that it's only the girls that nobody knows the fate of? In reality, a number of those girls are kept hidden in rooms beneath the palace at Rivough."

"What for? Wait... don't tell me...!"

"What else could it be? I'm a defector from decadence. I always stayed clear of that area after learning about it. I was the only noble who did. That's why Johalva is dead, and I'm not."

"Boy! When Larcei finds out about that... let's just say Rivough palace is going to get a new... paint... job."

"I.. can imagine. She'll find out about it eventually. I think the best way for me to handle the situation is just for me to tell or show her once we take Rivough, and let her take care of it. Then look or just get the Hell away while she deals with her, frankly, justified anger."

"I imagine that is going to be very pleasant to clean up afterwards." said Seliph grimacing.

Johan nodded in agreement. "Like I said, I'm going to do what I can to make sure that I'm not one of her victims. When we take care of my father's army, I'll show her that awful place, and then run like hell. No amount of smooth speaking or poetry could save me if I handle this wrong."

"On the topic of smooth talking, I thought you spoke only in rhymes and in poetry. Yet, now you're talking normally, and what you have to say is rather... mature, in comparison to your behavior while facing Johalva."

"Being around him always brought out the worst in me. I only speak in poetry to try to soothe the troubled hearts of the ladies of this land, and to convince the enemy that I'm an empty headed nitwit who isn't the least bit of a threat, and then they lower my guard while facing me. You wouldn't believe how effective that tends to be. I guess most people assume poets are weak saps... but Iv'e always been more of a philosopher than a poet... which now that I think of it, is a nonsensical statement, as the two tend to go hand in hand, so I guess my poetry thing makes sense."

"Then why don't you speak to her like this? I mean, poetry doesn't impress her... it won't impress any Isaacian woman, really. So maybe a man that seems... deeper on second glance that first would impress her."

"You mean if I drop the poetry altogether, I'll have a shot at Larcei?"

"P...robably not. But the odds would be better if you focused more on the philosopher side of yourself around her, and through in some poetry occasionally as one of your... quirks. 5,000 gold says that doing that will make the public like you a lot better than if you just keep on acting like you usually do."

"I didn't think nobles could lower themselves into making bets."

"Obviously not, as I'm making you one. Think about it, at the very least, you'll fit in better by doing that."

"Alright then Seliph, I'll think about it. Thanks for the advice, and just take the money if you want it. I believe you, so I don't need to bet."

Chapter Text

Jackson, the current guardian of Isaac castle, woke with a start. He looked down from his window to see Schmidt's men attacking the front gate. "What the... WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?!" he cried down to them. He was then forced to duck as an axe was thrown at him. He dodged it, but the unfortunate servant still asleep in a chair wasn't so lucky.

"And so it is with traitors!" one of the soldiers cried out.

"Traitors? What is he talking abou- oh no... I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN HE'D DESERT FOR THAT ISAACIAN WENCH!" he cried face palming. "Why is it that every time Lord Johan makes an idiotic decision, I'm the one who winds up paying the consequences?" he thought as he grabbed his weapon and ran down the stairs into the atrium of the castle.

"Men! WE'RE UNDER ATTACK BY..." he stopped to see that they'd already been overrun. He quickly bolted in the other direction. "The stables, I have got to get to the stables!" he thought, as he panicked and ran in that direction. When he arrived, he saw a young woman standing by a horse. "Mercy! saddle up and head toward Ganeishire! I expect Lord Johan will be there, and I need you to warn him! Tell him about this attack!"

"I'm already on it!" she called, stepping aside to reveal a fully prepared horse. Suddenly, she shrieked and pointed behind Jackson and then scrambled to get on the horse's back. He turned around to see a small group of enemy soldiers running towards them, axes raised.

"Go now, Mercy! I'll cover your escape!" Mercy was smart enough not to argue over his safety, and promptly rode out of the stable and was soon safely on her way to Ganeishire. Jackson, however, turned his attention back to his opponents. "Fair warning boys. Some of you won't be going home tonight!" he said, and then he charged.

With a medial slash and a downward thrust, the first man was taken out. Jackson then spun 180 degrees and the second man got an axe to the face. Jackson pulled the blade out and, dodging a few swipes from soldier number 3, he jumped in the air and delivered a critical hit. Jackson grinned. Oh yea, I'm such a...UGHH!" he cried out in pain as an axe cut the back of his shoulder.

He spun around and struck down the man who injured him. He then look up to see an additional four soldiers converging on him simultaneously. Ignoring his injury, he lifted his axe to about chest level and began to spin rapidly, creating a deadly arc that caused 3 of the soldiers to step back. The one who tried to get through got messily decapitated. Jackson stopped spinning and grinned at the remaining three. "Well, I'm no pushover. Am I boys?"

"No, no you are not." said a voice, and all four turned to see Schmidt walk into the stable yard. "Frankly, your'e the only one here that I've seen put up a decent fight. You have very sloppy defenses. Everyone and everything else fell apart in five minutes."

"Well, we didn't know about Lord Johan's betrayal, so we weren't expecting to be attacked by our allies. So of course we weren't prepared."

"Yet you know about it." Schmidt pointed out.

"One of your soldiers through an axe through my window and killed one of my men. He then proceeded to shout 'and so it is with traitors!' I then remembered there was an Isaacian princess that Lord Johan was infatuated with, and well, I pieced things together from there. If we had more time and had actually received the news before you did, I would have ordered my men to increase our defenses. Lord Johan left me in charge for a reason. How did you hear about it before we did, anyways?"

Ignoring the very good question, Schmidt proceeded to declare "Very well then, why don't you put down your weapon and I'll let you live. You might not be held accountable if what you say is true."

"Might not? How about will? I was the one in charge of this castle, and King Danan would want me executed as an example. My only real choice is to make a last stand right here, right now or face him for my example. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather die on my feet like a warrior."

"You make a good point." Schmidt said frowning. "I'd assure you of the opposite, that you would be shown mercy for surrendering, but we both know that that would make me a lier." he said regarding Jackson whilst stroking his chin.

Then he said "very well then, I respect your decision to have a warriors death. You shall make your last stand facing this." he said, drawing his weapon. "This Brave axe once belonged to the traitorous Lord Lex of Dozel. Our king, Danan took it from him, and Lord Lex's blood was spilt by his own blade. It is a blade so well crafted, it is said it enables the wielder to strike his enemy twice as many times. Let your blood intermingle with his on this blade. A worthy end for a brave warrior. You cannot defeat me while I wield it."

"That may be so, but I am not the only one who's blood can be spilt. Your's can join mine. That should delay your invasion of Ganeishire. You wouldn't want your men to go on without you."

"Bold words. Draw your weapon!" as the two charged at each other, Jackson had one final thought, almost a prayer. "Mercy, my cousin, get there safely."

Chapter Text

"Oh dear, by the looks of her, something must be very wrong." Roddleven said to himself, as he saw a panicked looking girl approaching the gates of Ganeishire on horseback. He left his post and hurried down to meet her. He found a stable-hand helping her to dismount.

The stablehand had tried asking her where she came from, but all she could say was "Lord Johan, where's Lord Johan? I must speak to Lord Johan." she continued to say this, not letting the stablehand speak, so Roddleven did the natural thing, he spoke over her.

"He's not here. All of our resident nobles are currently in Sophara."

"What?!" she shrieked, turning white as a sheet. "Iv'e been riding hard for days, trying to reach this place, and now you are telling me that I have to go even farther? I...I...submit to this proof that the gods hate me!" she cried before stumbling and nearly fainting. Roddleven caught her.

"Obviously, you're a messenger bearing an urgent warning, and you wore yourself out. Tell me the message and I'll personally deliver it." he got no response, she was passed out. "Oh dear, that won't do... Radney!"

"Yes?" asked his twin, who just happened to be nearby.

"We've got a messenger from... somewhere, and she's worn herself out trying to reach us. Help me carry her to Mana and Lana!"

"Lana's not here, she's in Sophara, remember?"

"yea that's important" he said under his breath. "Can you just help me carry her to a healer?"

"You're always talking about how strong you are, why do you need help carrying anything?"

"Just open doors and get people out of the way, OK Radney? Please, just do what I ask!"

"OK, OK, Mr. Bossy!"


"So... Isaac castle is in the hands of the enemy. I... actually kind of expected something like that to happen. Alright Mercy, you don't have to worry anymore, you stay here with Mana and recuperate yourself. I'll head directly to Sophara to deliver your message." Roddleven said to the recently awakened messenger.

"Thank you" is all Mercy could say as she breathed a sigh of relief. Roddleven exited the room and then he turned to his sister.

"Alright Radney, I'm going to set out at once. While I make my way back to the stables, I want you to inform the others. They need to be ready for when the enemy comes. More ready than they already are. Hopefully, I'll be back with Lord Seliph before they attack us here."

"That's your plan?"

"You got a problem with that?"

"Um, yea! How about we have someone who actually knows how to ride tell Lord Seliph about the invading forces, while we prep ourselves and then ambush the enemy on their way here. They won't expect us to come at them like that. We could..."

"Absolutely not! You will do exactly as I say Radney! Your score doesn't matter."

"Excuse me?"

"Don't play dumb with me! I know about your little competition with Larcei over which one of you can kill more men by the time Isaac is liberated. I have two things to say about that. One, I know you and Larcei both hate men, but that is just taking it to far, targeting male soldiers like that."

"Pfft, targeting. Like any woman would want to fight for the empire."

"Second of all, Larcei is WAY out of your league when it comes to competitions like that. She's the princess of Isaac and a descendant of the Crusader Odo. Of course she's going to win! She can EASILY get six times as many kills as you! You are not going to abandon this castle in a vain attempt to win! I forbid it!"

Radney was giving Roddleven the death glare by this point, however she still said, "Fine, spoilsport, go and play errand boy, while I sit here waiting to be assaulted. Why I have to say that twice in one lifetime, is a question I just chalk up to you thinking to much of yourself." satisfied enough by this reply, Roddleven left. Radney, however, went straight to the armory. Of course she wasn't going to keep her word. Since when does anyone obey that kind of instruction?


"Sir, Roddleven has just arrived at our gates, he claims to have an urgent message." the servant boy said to Seliph.

"Oh? Well, send him in then!" as he walked in, Seliph asked him "what is the matter Rod? And speaking of things the matter, why are you walking like that?"

Wincing at having his name shortened and the following question, Roddleven told him. "A messenger arrived from Isaac castle the other day; King Danan had it sacked because Johan joined us. Logically, those same soldiers will be marching on Ganeishire next. I came here as quickly as I could. On foot. That's why I'm walking funny."

"Oh dear, we'd better hurry back to Ganeishire then. Hopefully, we'll have a couple of days before the enemy arrives. Have you put the others on alert?"

"Yes sir, I told Radney before I left."

"Then I guess we'll find Ganeishire undefended." Seliph muttered.

"No sir, I gave her explicit orders not to... what's so funny?" he said, looking towards where Delmund stood laughing.

"You really don't know your sister all that well, do you Roddy? She'll obey all your little commands that she doesn't hold any interest in so that you won't consider badgering her more than once about not something that she really wants to."

"Yep, that's Radney alright." said Larcei from her spot opposite of Delmund. (They were both there because they were standing guard for Seliph)

"You'd better hurry back Roddy!" said Delmund grinning.

"My name is Roddleven." he said under his breath as he exited the room.

For a few moments all that could be heard was the strumming of the minstrel who had been entertaining them. Then, Larcei turned to Delmund and asked him, "Why do you insist on calling him Roddy?"

"Because his real name is ridiculous. How do you even pronounce that? Rod-levin? Rod-leave-en? Rold-elven? Road-liven? I keep pronouncing it Road-Alvin for whatever reason. Roddy is much easier to say, and it rhymes with his sister/ your substitute's name too. Radney, Roddy, Radney, Roddy."

"Excuse me? My what now?"

"Oh please, you and Radney are virtually identical. She could be your body double and substitute for you any day, nobody would notice the difference. You're the same person, she just has shorter hair. The same can be said for Ulster and... no wait, Ulster's not bossy, he'd much rather pine away than give orders."

"Well, in that case, how about you and Tristan? I swear, sometimes I could think that you two are brothers."

"Pfft. Tristan's a mook. All he does is follow orders, make comments without an ounce of... anything, and generally be uninteresting."

"And what about you and your one character trait of making snide remarks?"

"It's called a personality, sweetheart."

"Sweetheart? Sweetheart?! I'll show you a sweetheart once I tear out yours! No... wait, that won't work, your's is all rotten and sour."

"Why don't you two just kiss already and save us all this trouble?" Seliph muttered under his breath. Delmund and Larcei both delivered a death glare over that remark. Seliph ignored this, and instead turned to the minstrel and said. "OK, thank you for the song, you may leave now Mr..."

"Rand. Myst Rand the Minstrel. And I think, I'll stick around you guys. You guys are legends in the making, and someone will need to sing songs for and about you."

"OK... suit yourself then." then perking up and turning to the arguing pair, he said "Ladies, are we forgetting the banner of axemen heading our way? Let's gather the troops and rejoin the rest of the army." and he lead the way out the door. Rand, Larcei, and Delmund followed him, but then Delmund stopped short at the doorway.

"Wait... did Seliph just call me lady?


"Rebel scum! Your wave of insurgency stops here and shall go no further!" declared Schmidt.

Radney's response? "Yea, yea, talk to the blade! You arrogant brawn-for-brains are going to die right here, right now!"

"Gee, brawn-for-brains, what an original insult." Tristan thought to himself. Thought, because unlike Delmund, he preferred to keep his remarks to himself.

"We shall see scum... men, ATTACK!" and the Imperials charged

"Scum, scum, scum. Is that the best insult that you can come up with? Well, your bodies will be covered with it soon enough. Alright guys, let's give these Imperial cretins a proper Isaacian greeting!"

"Gee, that phrase isn't overused at all!" Tristan thought as they charged.


"There they are! Hey... look's like our guys have put up a pretty good fight so far. Look! They've actually established a tactical advantage for themselves! They have the enemy in a bottleneck, and the enemy horsemen can only come at them two at a time, and I can see Radney; she's giving them hell!" Lester told the others, reporting his observation.

"And... I'm an idiot for believing she'd obey my instructions. I can't believe that I thought she would! whined Roddleven.

"I won't contest that point." Delmund said snorting. His comment received... you know what, let's just pretend we know that he's going to get a glare every time he opens his mouth.

"No time for an argument boys, it's high time we joined the fray!" Oifey shouted, and then charged downhill. So the heroes joined up with the rest of their troops. Larcei made her way through ally and enemy alike until she reached the person that she wanted.

"Radney! RADNEY! HEY RADNEY!" it took the last shout to get her attention, and when she noticed, her sword was halfway through an enemy soldier's stomach. Radney proceeded to turn her head, completely ignoring the dying man.

"Oh, there you are Larcei. Here to help me clear out the junk? Iv'e almost got things wrapped up here."

"We should have been clearing them out together you sneak! Trying to boost your score without me are you? Well, shame on you!" Larcei said, shaking her fist.

"Well, in my defense, I could hardly let them attack me when I knew that they were coming. Defensive mode... I don't like it! Anyways, I held them back, and you're here now, that's all that matters. If you're so concerned about cooperation, then let's take out their leader together, shall we?" Radney said with a grin.

"Now your'e speaking my language!" Larcei said, smiling back.

The two of them rushed forward into the oncoming group of enemy soldiers, swords spinning wildly and dangerously in the air, decapitating or dismembering all who got in the way. "I'm up to 90, Larcei! How are you doing?"


"What? You know what, if I kill the leader, I get ten points!"

"Nice try, Radney! He's worth two, and they're going to be split up."

"Aww. You're no fun!" Radney said whilst making a mock sad face.

"Forget about that, there he is!" Larcei exclaimed as she charged and leapt into the air. Schmidt noticed her in time, however, and sidestepped the blow. Reacting quickly, he lashed out with his axe, barely missing Larcei's face. The stroke did, however, cut off a chunk of her hair. Now annoyed, Larcei unleashed a flurry of blows, which Schmidt parried and countered as best as he could, which was very well. Larcei's face showed surprise that he had withstood the onslaught, and Schmidt just smiled smugly, as he blocked Radney's downward stroke. (the whole sequence had taken approximately six seconds)

"Two against one? Now that's rather unfair, how do you expect to survive?" he asked.

The girls looked at each other for a moment. "Like this!" they cried in unison and dashed forward. At first, Schmidt parried the blows. Then, a slash from Radney grazed his right knee. As his leg stiffened and he pulled it back, Larcei took a chunk out of his left shoulder. With a cry, he bent his arm backwards and put his hand on the wound as he continued to hold out with the axe in his right hand... which Radney promptly severed. Larcei finished him off with a diagonal slash that cleaved his head in two. What was left fell to the ground with a thud. The day was won.

"Nice." Radney said in a monotone voice. "I guess that means you get all the points."

Larcei rolled her eyes. "I told you already, we each get one point for that. You earned it, I couldn't have made that kill without you."

"Yea, considering the way you jumped in the the fray like that, I'd have to agree. Be careful doing that kind of thing, you could get yourself killed leaping wildly into battle like that."

"You be careful Radney. You would do the exact same thing. Heh, you'd do everything that I would. Delmund was right, you really could substitute for me. Maybe that can be my excuse to keep you around once this is all over."

Chapter Text


 "Is something the matter Julia?" Lana asked the girl walking next to her.

"Nothing is wrong... not necessarily." said Julia hesitatingly, "but... I have had this feeling for a while now. A feeling that I haven't been contributing very much."

"Well of course you've been contributing! If I didn't have you helping me, I would be overwhelmed with the wounded who need tending too. Besides, the patients love you! Your sweet disposition helps them keep their own demeanors cheery! A pleasant face and soul does a wounded soldiers as much good as all the medicine in the world, that's what I was taught." said Lana, smiling broadly.

"Thank you for saying that, but... is that all I can do to help? Whenever there is a battle I have to hide in the rear of our lines, attend anyone who's fallen behind, and try to avoid notice. Do I really have the right to cower and slink about while everyone is fighting for their lives? All of the boys are pouring all of their efforts into fighting. Do I have the right to do any less? We are all working towards the same goal." explained Julia.

"If that's how you feel, I can bring it up to someone who can train you, but... Honestly Julia, I can't imagine you carrying a sword or a lance, and I most certainly cannot imagine you carrying an axe! Frankly, I can't even picture you wielding a bow! Plus, with the time it would take to teach you, and the amount of time it would take you to build up the body strength to use any of those things..."

"I realize that, Lana, and I honestly can't imagine myself using any of those either, but... don't you feel that you are being a bit of a load for the boys, walking around without at least a way of defending yourself? A staff won't do much for you if you are attacked, and then one of the boys... or Larcei or Radney... will be stuck having to rescue you or I.

"I actually do know how to use basic tomes, but I haven't felt the need to use one. We have plenty of fighters who can and are perfectly willing to come to our aid if we are in trouble, and that number of fighters is growing steadily. I feel that my energies are better spent doing something that no many can do and do well. Most of the boys only know basic First Aid skills, so I never feel useless, as in battle, easy fixes are a rare thing, and this is what Iv'e trained my whole life to do."

"That's great for you Lana, and I wish that I could say that with the same confidence, but..." Julia broke off the sentence and just sighed.

Lana gave Julia a long, concerned look. "This seems to be very important to her. I think I should let Seliph know. He'll help her feel better, however he chooses to handle this... dilemma."

Lana managed to have a moment alone with Seliph soon after they reached Isaac castle. She explained in detail all of Julia's concerns, and this caused him to pace the throne room thoughtfully, then he stopped and half pulled out a golden book from his shirt, looking at it hesitatingly. "What is that, Seliph? And why were you carrying it in your shirt?" she asked.

"It's an Aura tome. My mother used it to defend herself while traveling with my father. I always carry it with me due to that sentimental value, it's one of the few things I have that actually belonged to her. Maybe Julia can make use of it. I dunno, thinking of her using a light tome just feels... right to me. Then again, I think she would be better off if I exchanged it for a better one at a shop..."

"Exchange it?! Seliph, that was your mother's! If it was good enough to be her one defense-"

"Hell of a lot of good it did defending her. Shanan saw her trying to use it on that... man just before he was knocked out, before she was taken out of my life forever. When he came to, all that was left was this tome, and a small pool of gold. Shanan always thought it was a part of something the man used to steal my mother, or a side effect of whatever spell he used, but I've never believed that that was what it was. I've always held onto a different theory."

"Then what do you think it could have been, Seliph?"

"Her ring. I think that small pool of gold was her wedding ring. I believe that that man, whoever he was, had intended for her to marry Arvis all along. I think he took the wedding ring off of her finger and melted it in front of her out of spite towards her union with my father." he said sadly.

"Oh. That's DREADFUL! If that's what he did, then... then what does that have to do with that tome and giving it to Julia?"

"The theory has nothing to do with it, I just let my mind wander. Anyways, a few years ago, I decided to do a little research on light magic. I can't use it, but I did find out that the Aura tome carries a lot of weight. That much should have been obvious."

"Weight? What do yo-OOMPH!" Lana nearly dropped to the floor when he plopped the heavy tome in her arms.

"Apparently, the weight it puts on your mind from use is similar. This can really slow the user down. It is really only good for last ditch attempts at self defense. I always thought that if my mother had a better tome on her, she could have escaped. I'm not taking the chance that I'm right and letting Julia meet the same- though obviously not exactly the same- fate. That's why I think I should exchange it at a shop for a better, lighter one. If I did that, I would not have the burden of what happened in the past weighing me down in my thoughts concerning her. I'll live knowing that I did what I could to avoid repeating the past mistakes of others. Essentially, this is my life's goal boiled down to one person, for now. Lana, would you please help me find a place where I can exchange this for something for Julia?"

"Julia?" a voice called out to her. Julia looked up to see Seliph and Lana approaching her. Seliph was holding out a tome to her. "I'm giving this to you. Lana told me that you wanted to aid us in battle, so we bought this for you." he said.

"Oh! Thank you! It's just what I wanted!" she suddenly had a blank look on her face as she asked, "Wait, what is it?"

"It's a tome called... well technically it's name is Nosferatu, but I prefer it's old name of Rezire. It sounds like a better name for a light tome. Anyways, it's a light... Light tome that allows the wielder to absorb life energy from their attacker."

When he said that, he noticed that Julia gained a rather... concerned look on her face. He realized that she was likely thinking of what purpose someone would have used that same tome for in the past. He quickly moved to put her fears to rest. "But since it's a Light tome, it only really works if you have pure intent. It reflects the user's mental state in that it won't work if you want to use it for anything other than self defense or the protection of others. It's probably why it isn't used much."

"Then it was never used for...? Well then thank you very much Seliph!" she said smiling as she went forward and gave Seliph a great big hug.

Lana's countenance fell slightly when she saw this. "They look lovely together. I hope she is successful in winning him over. If anyone deserves to have his love, it's a pure, innocent girl like her, and not stubborn, willful old me." she thought to herself as she sighed and held back any tears that might fall.

Seliph cleared his throat. "Well... um... on that note..." he said as he looked at Julia, who let go of him and blushed "I believe that it is about time that Isaac had a change in regime."

The Battle of Rivough was mostly within the castle walls. Danan had been so sure of Schmidt's victory, he had left a token guard defending the castle. By the time his forces had assembled to repel the Liberation Army, they were already at the castle gates. As they stormed the hall, Larcei noticed a gap in the fighting in front of a corridor that led directly to the throne room. She grabbed Radney's arm, and motioned with her head to the corridor. They started to approach it, but their route was blocked... by Roddleven. "Oh no, you are not going to fight King Danan without me. I owe that dastard a little something as well." he said

"Who even says that anymore?" Larcei asked him. "And anyways, so do I... and in that case, so does my brother. HEY ULSTER!" Larcei cried, gaining her twins' attention, and she motioned for him to follow.

This act also caught Lester's attention. He shouted after them to wait up "I'm coming too!" he cried "You'll need cover!" not believing that they would, the four Isaacians ignored him and hurried off as Lester struggled to join them."

"Danan! The kingdom of Isaac owes you much. Prepare to get your due reward." Larcei said as the four swordsmen drew their blades. "You're outnumbered, surrender now, and your death might not be as painful."

"Oh? And how do numbers matter when you have my skill? As for outnumbered... JAMISON! JARREL! JOHTO! JAYWALKER! GET YOUR STUPID ASSES OVER HERE RIGHT NOW! The four named axemen entered and the 9 warriors clashed in mortal combat.

Larcei went straight for Danan, but she quickly found that she had to contend with both him and Jamison. Fortunately, she had the raw skill to survive their onslaughts, she had inherited the special abilities of both of her parents, and they definitely helped her. Radney, meanwhile, was contending with Jaywalker. She found him to be a complete pushover, and he was quickly brought down. "That's kill 99!" she said excitedly as she turned to look at Danan's unprotected back. "One Hundred!" she shouted as she leapt across the room towards him.

Danan, however, heard her shout, and with practiced ease, he pushed Larcei back with a powerful blow, pivoted, and threw a hand axe directly at Radney. She had no time to dodge, nor the ability to, as she was still in midair. The axe hit her right in the center of her body. She crashed to the ground and went into a high speed roll which ended with her face up by the wall.

Roddleven had just disarmed Johto when he saw this happen. "RADNEY!" he shrieked, completely losing his focus on his opponent who proceed to whip out a war hammer, and in the same motion smack him across the face, knocking him out.

Johto's lips parted in a wicked grin as he raised the hammer above his head "Well boy, it's time to say good b-UGGH!" his hammer suddenly left his hands and smacked his head. His now red gaze turned to see Ulster with his Wind Sword in his right hand, blade pointing directly at him. In his left hand, he held his iron blade backhanded... with the actual blade sticking lodged in Jarrel's face. Withdrawing it, Ulster rushed forward and finished Jarrel off. He then turned around to aid his twin in taking on Danan. Danan was rightfully the head of House Dozel. He was able to counter the twins' attacks with his silver axe quite easily.

"THAT'S THE LAST LIFE YOU'LL EVER TAKE!" Larcei cried, glaring at him through tear stained eyes.

"On the contrary! Iv'e still got yours to take, and then there's the worthless one of that son of mine... that'll teach him to let himself be seduced by some Isaacian w-"

"Seduce? SEDUCE THIS!" she shrieked, unleashing a flurry of blows. When Danan was still standing at the end of them, he smirked at her shocked face.

"Is that the best insult that you can come up with? You are truly pathetic. It'll take more than waving your sword to-HRRRK!" and his body went rigid. Larcei and Ulster looked at each confused. Neither of them had stabbed him.

Danan's eyes widened and he vomited out a large object and dropped dead on the floor. Larcei dropped to the floor and looked at the bloody object. It was an arrow. Ulster looked at the body. There was an arrow lodged in the small of Danan's back, and arrow lodged in the back just where the neck started, and an arrow sized hole in the back of his head, right behind the mouth. "What the..." they both said, then they looked up. "LESTER?!"

"I said I was coming with you guys." said Lester, arm raised as if he were explaining to them the most obvious thing in the world.

"But... you... I... GOD DAMMIT! I WAS SUPPOSED TO KILL HIM!" Larcei shrieked in pure fury, stabbing the body half a dozen times and decapitating it in her rage.

"I had the perfect opportunity to take him out, so I took it. Just because it would have been poetic justice to let someone personally wronged by the enemy kill said enemy is not a good enough reason to leave them alone. Someone else has the chance to take them out? They ought to take it. He's dead regardless and no longer a threat to anyone." declared Lester.

Cocking his head and looking straight at Larcei he continued. "I understand why you're angry about it, but I think you should focus your attention on attending our fallen comrades." He said, pointing towards where Radney lay. The twins quickly rushed to their counterparts' sides, and Lester joined Ulster. Roddleven was just regaining consciousness. He immediately remembered his sister's plight and he tried to rush to her, but the other two had to support him as he made his way to her.

They found Radney breathing heavily, and bleeding profusely from the wound in her abdomen. She looked at the boys. " Isaac free?" she asked

"Yes. Danan is dead, you can rest easy now." Ulster told her.

"Thank Odo." she said, exhaling deeply and closing her eyes.

Roddleven was panicking. "Now, hold on a minute Radney! Don't close your eyes! RADNEY, LOOK AT ME! DAMMIT! OPEN YOUR EYES!" he cried, holding his sister in his arms.

"What..." said a voice from behind him. Roddleven looked to see Seliph standing there. "Oh... Radney... I'm sorry for your loss." he said, putting his hand on Roddleven's shoulder. Roddleven buried his face in Seliph's abdomen and wept.

No one tried to remove him. With this, Seliph realized with war, the cost was someone dear. Maybe not dear to you, but dear to someone you do hold dear, and that he must be ready to comfort those who felt loss. Isaac was free and the battle was won. The war against the empire, the holy war against the Loptyrians, was just beginning.


Chapter Text

"Well hello there Seliph, where are you going? And do you honestly think that you'll be allowed out of the castle without a guard?" said someone lurking in the shadows just behind Seliph.

Seliph stopped in his tracks and turned to the speaker. "Oh, hi Lester. I was just... I heard that there was a village just northwest of here, and I thought the residents would appreciate a visit from their country's liberator."

Lester folded his arms and said "Then we'd better hurry. The funeral is in a couple of hours, we shouldn't miss it."


"You said 'meet their country's liberator', right? And if I recall correctly, I am the one who shot Danan dead. As far as you go, all you did was kill a bunch of common soldiers and seized thrones." then his expression went from serious to thoughtful. "Why are there thrones in the fortresses anyway? Isaac is one country, not a bunch of united kingdoms like Agustria... right?"

"I think it has to do with the Dozel's ego. Johan had his father and two brothers. 4 Dozels and 4 fortresses, 4 thrones for 4 men to play king of their own little castles." Seliph rolled his eyes and then said "Or maybe not, I think I heard there actually were separate noble houses of Isaac back in the day, but Shanan's is the only one that exists now. Anyways, back on subject, I don't mind you coming, but that statement you made sounded a little prideful. Didn't your mom teach you about the problem with pride?" he said, giving Lester a concerned look.

"Didn't she teach me the problem with pranks? Pride has nothing to do with my wanting to come with you to that village. What if there are still some stray imperial soldiers wandering about? They could pick you out as an easy target if you were alone. It's dangerous to go alone, so my bringing up what I did was just an excuse to come along."

"...I have nothing to argue against in that. Let's go." said Seliph, conceding Lester's point.

The two boys were quickly swamped by the gratful citizens within half a minute of their arrival. When the villagers finally made an organized circle around them, the village elder came to address them personally. "Hello Sir Seliph, I must thank you for the great service you have rendered us."

"It was the least I could do for the country I was raised in."

"Nevertheless, I would like to reward your service with the hand of my granddaughter in marriage."

"Well I...wait... WHAT?!" at the elder's statement, Seliph turned deathly pale, and his pupils dilated rapidly.

"We raised her well, and she is rather good tempered, and..." as the elder continued explaining his granddaughter's merits, Seliph was backing away slowly, and Lester was corpsing on the sidelines.

While this was going on, a young woman worked her way out of the crowd and shook the elder. "Grandpa! Quit it! You're being humiliating!" then turning to the terrified lord, she said, "I apologize for my grandfather's behavior. He likes to play matchmaker with me and any young man he meets. You'd do best to ignore him." At this, Seliph visibly relaxed. "But if you do find me attractive..." Seliph clenched up again, and the girl laughed "Here's some money we gathered up as a thank you... you do realize I was joking right? It was a J-O-K-E."

The grandfather piped in with "No it wasn't."

At this point, Lester couldn't contain his laughter anymore. After he continued chuckling, he plopped a gemstone in the elder's hand and said "OK, OK Iv'e had enough. You can stop now, you've gone farther than I asked you to. You see Seliph-" he turned around to see the village gate swinging back and forth and the granddaughter staring at him in shock.

"You... you PAID grandpa to say that?!"

"Yup" he said, and he burst out laughing again.

"How... how did you even know Seliph would be coming here? Did he tell you ahead of time?"

"No. I knew because being concerned for the well being of the common man is so ingrained into Seliph's heart and soul, he would be willing to visit a man on his deathbed that he never met if that man asked for Seliph's presence. I know he would! It's happened before! Anyways, it isn't that much of a stretch to think that he'd visit a random village to see how the villagers fared living under a cruel regime that set up it's main base of operations close by. Anyways, thanks for keeping the joke going, sir. It was a good laugh."

"Joke? What joke?" said the old man.

"Alright, spill it. What is it that you want to show me Johan? I have to prepare for my best friend's funeral, and I don't have time for games." said an irratible Larcei as Johan dragged her to the castle basement and Ulster followed.

"Something I think that you should know about, something I took no part in, and I think if you saw it, you would then be able to express your... emotions and feel better before the funeral by clearing this out... no wait, that's a terrible choice of words, 'cause you're going to-"


"Did you ever wonder what happened to all of the girls my father's men kidnapped? Well..." he opened a door and the backed away quickly.

Larcei looked inside, and when she realized what it was, she gave a furious shriek and dove into the room, sword drawn, and the sounds of violence soon arose. A couple minutes later, Oifey came down the stairs "What is with all the rack- HOLY CRAP! WHAT THE HELL IS SHE DOING?!" he cried as he stared in the room, eyes huge, and mouth hanging open.

Johan wouldn't look at him and Ulster just gave a bored look. "What does it look like? She's killing a bunch of amoral men, DUH."


"Why are you so freaked out? You helped raise us. You should know that this isn't out of the ordinary."

"Why were there even people still in there?!"

"Why do you think?"

At that moment, Larcei finished her killing spree and came out with multiple red splotches doting her body, and holding... something in her left hand. "DAMN that felt good! Now I won't be an emotional wreck at the funeral. I know Radney would have been happy to see this." She said, dropping the object she was holding.

Oifey shrank back in horror and let out the worst expletive that he knew. "Thank you for showing me this room Johan, that was years worth of anger I just used up in there. I'm going to go clean up. You might want to have someone come by a demolish this room, by the way." she said as she left and was followed out.

"I'll tell Seliph when he gets back." Ulster said.

"You look like you were in a big hurry, Seliph. I heard about Radney, but you've got an hour, an there is no way someone could have told you I arrived yet."

Seliph stopped short and looked at the speaker. "Lewyn! You're back!"

"Yes, and I am impressed by how quickly you've retaken Isaac from the empire. I take it you haven't lost a single battle. That's good. Let's hope that streak keeps up, the world needs it."

"Oh? What's going on in other countries, Lewyn?"

"Hell on Earth, Seliph. Hell on Earth. Turns out that Isaac didn't have it that bad thanks to Danan's sons actually being decent people. What you've done here, you have to do across the continent. Prepare a speech and have a meeting with your army after the funeral. Organize a force to stay here in Isaac to guard it against imperial attack, and then have the rest prepare for a long journey."

"That's all well and good, Lewyn, but taking on the empire as a whole? That's a very dangerous thing. Where should we even start?"

"Thracia. When I left it, your cousin Leif was in desperate need of support. It almost seems that the entire Thracian Peninsula wants him dead. We cannot allow that to happen. Also, from the rumors Iv'e heard, I have reason to believe my son is leading a resistance force by himself... for some reason. I recognized his potential when he was born, if you find my son, you'll want to have him join us."

"I'm sure Fee will be happy to see you both."

At that, Lewyn froze in place. "WHAT?"

"Yea, your daughter joined us when we defeated Johalva. She's a decent fighter. Real cheery too. She's partnered herself with a young mage who claims to be the son of Azel and Tailtiu."

"Arthur. The little... nah, Fee will be just fine under his protection."

"Wait, does that mean-"

"Prepare yourself Seliph. It's almost time." Lewyn interrupted and then he left, leaving Seliph to think on his advice.


Chapter Text

"Are you sure you don't want us to come with you sir?" Dimna asked Seliph.

"Yes, I am certain. I know that you want to help our cause, and you will be. You can help by safeguarding Isaac. The imperial leaders aren't going to be happy about losing Isaac to us, and they may try to re-conquer the country. I need to leave people that I trust behind in order to help defend Isaac while I'm gone." explained Seliph

He shrugged his shoulders "I can't exactly leave the rightful ruler in charge, considering that he's not here. I probably won't be sending him back once we find him either. We'll need him, and he'll probably refuse to leave us anyways. So that's why I'm leaving you. You won't be alone, you know, half of Johan's troops and a good number of our Isaacian fighters will remain with you, and Tristan and Mana are staying as well." Seliph told him.

"What about Roddleven? Is he staying as well?"

Seliph glanced at the tragic swordsman "I... I am not sure. I was going to leave him too... but now that I think of it, we should probably take him with us because..."

"Because he isn't in the best emotional shape, and waiting for an attack that may never come might drive him mad. He'll need a distraction and someone to keep an eye on him." Dimna finished. Seliph nodded. "I understand sir, I'll do as you say." Dimna saluted and then he walked away.

After this, Seliph walked to the chair where Roddleven was sitting, staring blankly into the middle distance. Ulster had a hand on his shoulder and was speaking softly to him. "I can't imagine what you must be going through. I can't imagine a life without my twin, but I imagine you must be thinking about what you could have done differently. I assure you there wasn't anything, there was nothing at all that you could've done that would've prevented this, so please don't beat yourself up over it. Just know this... that in whatever you do from here on out, you will have the support of others.

"Yes," said Seliph, choosing now to speak up. "But it would be easier for us to help you if we knew what you intended to do now. Are you going to stay in Isaac, Roddleven?"

Roddleven turned his hollow gaze to Seliph. "No. There is nothing left for me here. Freedom means nothing to me if my sister can't experience it and enjoy it. She wanted it more, and the fact that she can't have it has left a bad taste in my mouth. I have no family now; all have now are my blades and the ability to use them. All I can do with my life now is use them to ensure that the breaking of families is no longer the normality in the world. To render the number of lives lost to evil on a daily basis to single or low double digits rather than being numbered in the hundreds or thousands. You are not leaving me behind. I shall follow you for the rest of my life in pursuit of this goal. I swear it on Radney's grave."

"Very well Roddleven, if that is how you feel, I won't try to stop you," declared Seliph then turning to Ulster, he said. "Now if you'd please excuse me, I have to have one last strategy meeting with Lewyn before we sortie."

"So you're saying that crossing this stretch of desert is going to be a bit of a hassle for us."

"That is correct, Seliph. We will be traveling relatively near to the Yied Shrine, the home base for the Loptyr sect. Due to that, we are bound to encounter dark mages who'll attack any passing traveller they see without any provocation whatsoever. There is a reason that the region is commonly referred to as the Desert of Death." Lewyn explained.

"Well, in that case, we really should take the shrine before we move on to Thracia."

"That's easier said than done. One does not simply march into the Yied Shrine and conquer it. It is sure to be protected by at least one very powerful dark mage. We will surely loose a number of men doing it. It would be a bit easier if we have some Silessian pegasus knights with us."


"My daughter doesn't count, Seliph."


"No! No buts! I swear Seliph, your'e acting like a child! Say but one more time and I swear...!"

Seliph sighed and decided not to tell him. So he said something along the lines that Lewyn wanted to hear. "We are all prepared for that. We steeled ourselves for that kind of loss before we left, and the loss of Radney has served to harden our resolve, especially among those of us higher in the command chain. Besides, we need to determine the fate of Shanan. He still hasn't returned to us. We need to determine whether he is still alive or not."

Shanan was very much alive, and very much annoyed. He had finally been able to break into the shrine in order to retrieve his lost heirloom, only for a random thief girl to snatch it up as soon as he reached the room where it was hidden. He was in a hurry to catch her, but he had to remain cautious at the same time. By the time he reached the exit to the shrine, he heard the shouts, the warning signs that the the dark mages had noticed the theft. When he got out and his eyes adjusted to the sunlight, he saw that the girl had stopped to take a breather.

"Boy, this is the best haul Iv'e had in months! For once, rumors of treasure in a dark, creepy place held true! No mortal peril caused by my break in! Then again, since there actually is treasure here, those who live here will not be happy about losing it. I'd better get a move on!" she said to herself.

At this point, Shanan caught up to her. "Now hold up a second!"

"Forget it! You think you can freeload off of me? Go find your own shrine to rob!" she cried while waving an oddly shaped sword in the air.

Shanan rolled his eyes. "I don't care about anything except the sword you got from that last chamber you visited. So save us both a lot of trouble and hand it over."

"Nuh uh! This sword wasn't easy to come by. If you want it, you're going to have to buy it! But now is not the time for sales!" she said before dashing off, with an exasperated Shanan giving chase. His pursuit ended rather quickly, however. Within a matter of seconds, he grabbed her by the arm pit and he forcibly turned her around. "Gah! Stop it! Get your hands off of me you pervert!" she cried while directing a kick at his groin in order to make him let go.

Shanan sighed and blocked the kick with his leg. "I've got your upper arm in my hand, and I'm not interested in touching anything else. Stop exaggerating and listen to me. Hurting you is the last thing on my mind right now, I just want my sword back!"

This made the thief girl stop short. "Wait, your'e saying that this sword is yours?"

"Yes, it has been in my family for generations. These cultists took it when my father was killed at the end of Isaac's war with Grandbell."

"Wait a minute..." the girl muttered to herself.

"There is really no point in you keeping it. It is the holy weapon known as Balmung, and I am currently the only man living who can even wield it properly."

"Wait a minute! You're not Prince Shanan, are you?"

"That I am miss..."

"Patty. My name's Patty, and... OH MY GOSH I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!" she exclaimed and she dropped her bag, clapped her hands together and squealed in delight. Shanan's expression changed to one of utter bewilderment.

"Iv'e been an admirer of yours since... since my birth 15 years ago!"

"That's nice, sword please."

"This... This just can't be happening! I'm dreaming!"

"Your'e not. Sword."

"And he touched me! Oh how-"

"JUST. GIVE. ME. THE. GOD. DAMN. SWORD!" he shouted. Needless to say, Shanan was thoroughly fed up at this point, especially since he noticed a group of dark mages and mercenaries closing in on them.

"OH! Sorry! Here you go, one god sword coming right up!" she said, handing the blade to Shanan.

"Finally! The power of my bloodline is finally mine!" he exclaimed, and with a burst of adrenaline, he rushed forward and took down 3 mercenaries hired by the cultists.

Patty, in the meantime, was on the verge of swooning. "This is all to much!" she was saying. She was snapped out of her delirium by a burst of dark magic erupting mere feet from where she was standing. She turned to see a dark mage approaching her. "Thought you could take me while I was admiring the prince, didja? Well, take this!" and she smacked him upside the head with her weapon. All it did was irritate him.

"The Hell do you think you're doing thief brat?"

"Trying out my new sleep sword."

"Hah! Those are pathetic! You wasted your money, girl! Those almost never work the way you intend them to," he said, unleashing a wave of dark magic, knocking Patty to the ground. "Now let me show you how you really leave your opponent at your mercy!"

"Perv!" Patty cried, picking up her sword and swinging it with all of her might, and since she was on the ground, at a low angle. The dark mage went to sleep.

The young heroes were surprised by how easy their journey currently was. Quickly finding a path to the shrine, they made their way with little resistance. Soon, they were on the most dangerous part of the path, the mountain pass directly below the shrine. Suddenly, in front of them, a body dropped down in front of them and rolled off of the cliff.

They collectively looked up to see Shanan battling by the upper cliff's edge. Lana noticed that he looked slightly wounded, so she used her Physic staff. His surprise only lasted a moment, as he made a quick glance to the side, delivered a lethal blow to his opponent, and then turned around and looked down. The young warriors heard him call someone, and were surprised to see a youthful looking girl approach the edge."Seliph! Get her out of harms way!" he called down to them. Then, he picked her up and dropped her off the edge.

She landed squarely in Delmund's arms. "Hi, I'm Patty," she said, blushing ever so slightly. She immediately found herself on the ground as he deliberately dropped her.

"Not interested." Delmund said brusquely.

Oifey stroked his mustache. "If he wanted her out of harms way so badly, it must be a very dangerous situation up there. We'd better hurry," and with that, he set his horse on a sprint, with the twins in hot pursuit.

Seliph sweat-dropped at this. "Aren't they forgetting that there is an easier solution? Arthur! Fee! I want you two to... oh, I see that you're already on it," he said as he saw the pair fly up and around the cliff.

Meanwhile, at the top of the shrine, a dark mage ran up to the dark bishop who was left in charge of the shrine. "Sir! I finally found the book of Fenrir!"

"Finally!" the bishop exclaimed, and grabbing the tome, he immediately turned around and took a potshot at the liberation army. "Flawed but effective. Limited in damage range, but great in that range. It works well in cleaning up and removing scum!"

"To bad the next thing that will be cleaned is your flesh!" The bishop turned in time to see that the dark mage had been skewered by a pegasus knight, and that a young mage was sending a wave of wind magic his way. It hit him square in the face. This normally wouldn't have been a problem for a dark mage of his caliber, however, he had climbed on top of the wall so that he could aim better. Therefore, this hit disrupted his balance, and he fell 150 feet to the steps below. "By vultures!" Arthur exclaimed as he looked down to examine his handiwork.

"Well, that was a great one-liner!" Fee told him.

"Thanks, I've been practicing. Though, do you think I should have said 'To bad that scum is you!'?" Fee shook her head, deciding not to tell him that she'd been sarcastic. "Well, then, partner, shall wanna help me clear out the battlements?"

"Nah, I think Femina can handle the rest of them, and the others can take care of the ones beneath us," she said indicating the quad of pegasus knights swarming the shrine and the liberation army entering it.

One person was particularly surprised by this sudden turn of events. Other than every member of the Loptyr sect inside the building. It wasn't Arthur. It was Lewyn. "Wait, what? When-"

"I tried to tell you, but you were to busy calling me a child." Seliph said, interrupting him. "Fee sent a request for some reinforcements from Silesse just as we were leaving Sophara. They arrived while we were at Rivough, preparing for this invasion." tilting his head, he said. "I know you're just here to be an advisor to me, but don't you think you should at least listen to the ideas or information that I have, rather than assuming that you know better?"

Lewyn decided not to argue and concede the point.


Chapter Text

"I must have the worst luck in the world. Either that, or the gods must've decided to amuse themselves by using me as their plaything." Roddleven said to himself as he sat in the makeshift infirmary.

"Are you very badly hurt?" asked the healer as she approached him.

"Well... no, not really, when that dark bishop used that tome, I was at the edge of it's... err, blast radius. All it really did to me was to send me flying and make my left arm feel a bit funny." he sighed "I'm just complaining because... wait-a-minute, aren't you that messenger girl that I helped back at Ganeishire?" he asked, doing a double-take.

"I am." she responded.

"Your name was Marcy, right?"

She smiled weakly. "Close enough, my name is Mercy."

"What are you doing here, Mercy? I had assumed that you were still in Isaac." said Roddleven

"Isaac is not my original home. I am Granvallian born and only moved there out of necessity. The members of my family fell to disease one by one. So, frightened was I that I might meet the same fate, I left the country. In the end, I found myself in Isaac in order to receive the protection of the only relative who hadn't caught the disease and died to it, my cousin Jackson. Now that he is gone... I felt that the only thing that I have left to do with myself is to travel with your army, serving in any way that I can."

She sighed regretfully, a tear rolling down her cheek. She wiped it away and attempted to change the subject. "If we are doing an interrogation of why we are where we are, then I must ask, why are you here? You are obviously from Isaac. Did you not want to stay behind and defend your homeland from anyone who may try to reconquer it? Are you doing this on you own? Is your sister with you? I haven't seen her in a while."

In a steady voice, Roddleven said. "You've should've seen her. If you haven't... well, there is a reason for that. Do you remember the big funeral that we had at Rivough?"

"You mean the military one where you commemorated and put to rest all of the soldiers lost in the retaking of Isaac?" she asked, tilting her head and not realizing the obvious.

"Yeah... that was hers. That was meant to be her funeral. The military bit was tacked on at the last minute. Seliph decided that we should honer all of the dead, not just one person."

"OH MY WORD! I'm sorry to have brought up the subject!" she cried, putting her hands over her mouth "I should've known. I... I can be something of a thoughtless airhead at times. I guess that you must think that that I'm such a-"

"No, I don't. You obviously didn't know better. Please don't condemn yourself. Anyways, that's why I am here, with this army. It's how I intend to... what is that racket?" he questioned, and both of their attentions were captured by a nearby cot, where a small crowd of healers was gathering around a wounded man, lying a couple of yards away.

"My god! How is he still alive?" was the thought, or variations thereof on all of their minds as they looked down at the wounded man.

"Why is everyone looking at me? I'm alive and well. Alive anyways, my entire right side feels... strange. Seriously though, what's with all the fuss?" all of the fuss was due to the state of his body. His entire right side was black. His skin was peeled away and the flesh was rotting away at a visible rate. While he spoke and moved his arm slightly, the fingers on his hand disintegrated, and the same seemed to be happening to his hair.

Lana, Julia, and the other healers managed to mask their expressions, and Lana tried to reassure him that everything was all right. "Err... nothing to extraordinary. Your face is... unusually red, and there is definitely going to be scarring, but don't worry Donn, you'll be out of here soon enough.

"Oh alright, whatever you say miss... hey, what's with the faces?" he asked, looking past the healers.

They turned and saw Fee standing with her hands over her gaping mouth. Arthur was next to her with an extremely serious look on his face. Suddenly, he stepped forward, raised his left hand towards Donn's head, pulled out his Elfire tome with his right hand, and fired.

"What the HELL was THAT?!" asked Fee, practically shrieking.

"Putting an end to his misery, he was dead already." said Arthur in monotone.

"Well he looked very much alive before YOU came along! It doesn't matter what he looked like, he could have survived that."

"That's what Gab said about Dwyn and Jahn's son, Abar. So we let them live, and tried to heal them. Within 12 hours, Abar was dust, and Dwyn's entire body was black and exposed and he was begging to be killed. I wasn't going to let a repeat of that happen." he stated, with a hint of sorrow coming from his voice.

"You''ve seen this happen before?" Arthur nodded. Fee looked at the floor for a few moments. "Well you could have told them that! Now everyone will think that you are heartless!"

"Let them think that. They may be right about that, I don't know. I do know is that I have a hard time empathizing with people." he shook his head and rushed into the next sentence. "Anyways, what would telling them have accomplished? They'd have tried to save him regardless of what I told them. Better for them to be upset with me being the heartless one and taking the choice out of their hands, than being upset with themselves for failing to save him." he said, stopping to look outside a convenient window.

"Arthur... how exactly... do you perceive yourself?" asked Fee. Arthur just gave her a look, and immediately, she understood him. She opened her mouth to speak. She wasn't going to let him end on that negative note, she was going to tell him that he wasn't as bad of a person as he thought, that his concern for his own lack of a heart proved that he had one. Sadly, however, her rousing speech was interrupted by a spontaneous negative one.

"Well! That settles it then! I always thought so, especially after you left, but this only confirms it for me!"

Arthur whirled around in surprise "Amid?!" he cried

"Oh good, you remembered me. That means I'm totally justified in doing this."

"Justified in doing what?" Arthur asked. A devastating right hook to the jaw was Amid's response.

"Why didn't you bring us with you? You left us, and let our lives go to hell! Soon after you left, a rebellion began in Silesse. We joined in the fight, and its been Hell! Mel, Avner, Gawain, Artemis, Temsy... they're all gone, all killed since you left us for no good reason.

"Who's us?" Fee asked.

"I lived in the backwoods, Fee. You are safer in numbers, no matter how great the country is." said Arthur, rubbing his jaw. "Amid, I explained very well why I left in-" he said trying to walk away

"In the letter you left us." snapped Amid, following Arthur's path. "Yeah, that was great, you up and left without the rest of us because you were going to retrieve your kid sister from a fortress. Did you not think for a moment that you might need backup? We could have helped you! At the very least, if you didn't want to bring everyone, you could have brought me! We're cousins, remember? Wherever they have your sister, there's a good chance my own sister is there as well!"

Arthur was about to respond, but then an older male voice chimed in "I'm sorry to interrupt your argument about life choices, but could you please get me down from here?" The trio turned to see a man in dark robes inside a cage, facing the floor, with his limbs splayed, with small amounts of blood dripping from his nose. "There's a story behind this. I'll tell you if your willing to help out a man like me."

"It's hard to believe that there are people who have to live like this. No wonder the Loptyr sect wants to wipe us out, we treated them like monsters, so they were forced, in the end, to play the part." Seliph concluded sadly.

Lewyn nodded "Yes. Just goes to show, you should be careful with how you determine whether someone is good or evil. Born from the bloodline of a demonic god or not, no one is born evil. For generations, nobody seems to have been able to comprehend that fact."

Seliph nodded "I'll have to remember that. I swear, from now on, I won't judge anyone at first glance, even if they are working for the enemy." At that moment, Ulster came running up to him. "Yes, what is it?"

"Seliph, Arthur and Fee just found a prisoner. They are unsure of whether they should release him or not."

"A prisoner? Why shouldn't they release him?" Seliph asked.

"Seliph... he's dressed in the robes of a Loptyrian priest, and he confesses to be one. Or at the very least, a former one."

Lewyn looked at Seliph and gave him a slight smile. "It looks like you've got the perfect opportunity to put your words into action, Seliph."

"Thank you for freeing me. I know it must be hard to let me stand in your presence, considering what my people have done. I won't blame you if you try to get rid of me as soon as possible." said the priest, who was actually quite amiable.

"I don't see a reason to do that. As far as I know, you haven't done anything that I should be concerned about Mr... could I please have your name please?"

The priest blinked in surprise "My name? No one outside the church has ever bothered to ask... Cumha. My name, is Cumha." tilting his head he said "I'm surprised you care. After all, Iv'e probably done every horrible, inhuman thing that you can think of. Men usually don't want to give a human name to a monster like me." he said as his left lip half-raised itself in a sad smile.

"Well, I can't necessarily judge you until I know you. And considering the state that you were in inside your own home, I'm going to presume that you've fallen out of favor with your own people. The enemy of my enemy, right? So I'm willing to give you a chance. Why were you imprisoned, Cumha?" asked Seliph

"You care about that too? Well... I was an up and coming priest, and I reached the point in my career where I was considered for being raised to bishop. There are a number of ways that I could have tested for that rank, but being ambitious, I chose Firinne's trial... and it made me realize what my life had become."

"What happened?" Seliph asked

"Gee, maybe if you let him finish, he'll tell you." for that quip, Delmund got his usual glare, it did make Cumha chuckle though.

"My whole life, I though I was working for a noble cause, that I was on the side of justice, and that is the reason the gods gave us the continent 17 years ago. Every action I took up to that point in my life was because I truly believed that. But then I took Firinne's trial." he shivered and looked into the middle distance.

"Firinne... he's a spirit. A seemingly omniscient spirit who makes you face your true nature, and every lie you ever told yourself, head on. When he showed me that... when he showed me myself, I came to the conclusion that while the ends for which I fought were justifiable, I could never truly justify the means. Horrified with what I was, with what I had been doing, I decided then and there to desert." he sighed heavily.

"I took the trial alongside a friend, and he came to the same conclusion that I did. We planned our escape together. Somehow, our plans were discovered. I managed to secure his escape to the forests of Thracia, but I was caught. The sect doesn't take well to anyone trying to abandon their ways. That's how I wound up like that, that's my story. I won't blame you if you don't believe me."

"Why didn't they just kill you? I mean, how long ago was this, supposedly?" Delmund inquired, arms folded.

"Just kill me? Hah! 'just kill' a traitorous priest? No. You don't do that at all. When you capture one, you torture him mildly, but daily for a year, then you summon archbishop Manfroy, and he brings the tomes he uses in sacrifices to finish him off with, except you make the potency of the tome intentionally weaker in order to make the dying slower and more excruciating. That's one of a number of reasons that there is an incredibly low rate of abandonment of faith in the church of Loptyr."

Seliph and Lewyn gave each other a significant glance. Then Seliph said "Well Cumha, we are willing to grant you amnesty." a murmur of surprise went through the assembled members of Seliph's army.

"I'm afraid that I'm not familiar with that term. I presume that means that I'm coming with you under armed guard so I can't cause you any more trouble and be useful at the same time." Seliph shook his head, then told him what it really meant.

Cumha obviously didn't know how to process Seliph's declaration. It was written all over his face. "I'd feel better if you went with my suggestion. I mean, where would I go? What would I do? The mere fact that you are willing to let me leave makes me compelled to go with you. Of course you can take my word with a grain of salt, as this could be some sort of a-"

"No, I trust you. You can come with us if you really want to." Seliph told him, smiling. Cumha could only stare in bewilderment at the noble young lord.


Chapter Text

"Nice library!" Arthur exclaimed as he walked around the room Cumha had shown them.

"It's not exactly a library. It's more like Skaro's workshop. Which means that it definitely isn't nice." Cumha told him.

"Skaro? You have a guy named SCAR-O? Who names their kid that?"

"It's a nickname we gave him. A really mean one in all honesty. You see, he received two separate facial injuries while trying to capture a mage couple. Ever since then, he has mostly stayed in this room, or his own private complex in the middle of Silesse, reading and writing, coming up with terrible tools of destruction that we could use on anyone that we pleased." Cumha told them

"Anything that we might see on our quest?" asked Arthur and Fee simultaneously. They both sounded worried, but Arthur in particular seemed suspicious of something, as his eyes narrowed as soon as Silesse was brought up.

"P-robably not. Skaro was never the most... stable, of individuals. Most of what he came up with wasn't even viable. Generally what happens is, he's allowed to experiment with one of his new toys for a while, then he is told that 'it isn't working, do something else', so while you may see some of the fruits of his labor... oh, here we go." he said, picking up a book from the nearby table

"Here, take a look at this journal. It's where he recorded most of his ideas," and he handed it to Arthur, who started leafing through the pages.

He eventually stopped on one that he found rather... interesting that he decided to share. "Hey, Fee. Check this one out, he thinks that its possible to create a living suit of armor." he said, showing her the page in question.

"Really? How would that work?" she asked curiously.

"Apparently he would rip out someone's soul, and put it inside a special suit of armor that can split into fragments that can be used as projectiles. Apparently due to the pieces being small, it could change shape as well, like turning its hands into swords and... PFFFFFTTT HAHAHAHAHA!" and with that, Arthur lost his composure and pounded the desk in laughter.

"Gods above! He must have gotten a serious brain injury alongside those facial injuries that Cumha mentioned! This is fairy tale material! No... a fairy tale would be more believable than this! Iv'e seen many crazy weapons in my life, but this is beyond ludicrous! There is no way any normal person would believe for a second that that is possible!"

Fee wasn't laughing "I don't know Arthur, that sounds like it could be pretty dangerous."

Arthur did a double take. "Wait, you're actually taking this seriously? This blatant work of a madman? Really? How would he accomplish that, magic?"

"Says the wind mage." said a new voice. The three people in the room turned to see a newcomer none of them recognized. "I'm just saying, you use magic ALL THE TIME."

The three in the room continued to stare at the newcomer and one another until Fee finally said "I'm sorry-"

"I'm not" interrupted Arthur "Who the hell are you?"

"Me? I'm a member of your army sir." said the man

"Really? I haven't seen you before." Arthur said.

"As if all your troops didn't look the same to you," snarked the man. "Anyway, you likely wouldn't have seen me. I don't actually fight. I'm not a soldier, I'm a bard. I joined you at Gane... actually I think it was Sophara... yea, pretty sure it was Sophara. The name's Myst, but I have everybody I meet call me Rand. Anyways, it's nice to meet you."

"Oh! Nice to meet you too Rand!" Fee said, shaking his hand.

Arthur failed to do the same. Instead, he crossed his arms and asked. "Why are you here Rand?"

"I saw you two following him" he said indicating Cumha with his head "so I figured, considering who he was, following you would lead me to something interesting. Plus it would be the perfect excuse to meet you. I was right. Anyways, may I?" he asked, indicating the journal.

Arthur merely shrugged and gave it to him. Fee rose an eyebrow at this seemingly sudden shift in attitude. Arthur didn't notice. Instead, he began rummaging through the study, trying to find anything else of interest. Eventually, he found a red-bound tome. "Ooh, Fee! Check this out! I think... I think that this is an Arcfire tome."

"Arc-fire? Iv'e heard of El-magic, but not of any Arc-magic."

"Apparently they are exceedingly rare. A guy I once knew had one-"

He was cut short by the sound of tearing paper. "Sorry!" Rand shouted "the page wouldn't turn," he explained, holding up the book, showing a half crumpled and torn page still in the book."

"Oh, Iv'e had that happen to me a couple of times before, I hate it when that happens." Cumha said.

Arthur gave them both a look, shrugged and continued his sentence. "And I never got the chance to use it, even though he promised that I could and would... Iv'e got to try this thing out now!" Cumha tried to indicate that that was a bad idea, but Arthur brushed him off.

"I'm not an idiot, I'm not going to try it in here. I'm going to go outside, facing away from the building and any people," he said before running off, Fee following.

It's so nice to have another girl on the team. It's nice meeting you Patty." Julia said.

"Thank you, Julia. It is nice to meet you girls too," she said, looking down the table at the other girls eating with her.

"Have you gotten to know any of the boys?" Lana asked her, causing Patty to stop eating.

"Err... not really. I'm trying to AVOID any of them getting their hands on me, thank you very much." The other girls gave her bewildered glances. "What? I'm young, I live in a very poor nation, and I'm a criminal. Practically every boy I've ever met is a lech. Even my brother is a lech. Like hell I'm about to give any of them my time, except maybe the prince."

The other girls' looks became more concerned, but Larcei understood what Patty was trying to say and she started snickering. "Oh I see, you're one of those girls naive enough to believe that all men are perverts who'd love to take advantage of you at the first chance they get. That is, except for the noble prince, who's the sole paragon of virtue among all the males in this rotten world. Do I have your mindset down correctly?"

"Well, that's exactly how they all are!" exclaimed Patty, adding "Aren't they?" after a brief pause.

"No. That isn't true at all." said Larcei

Lana blinked in surprise "Wait... Larcei, you DON'T share the exact same opinion as Patty? Considering the way you've always behaved towards men, I thought-"

"No. I think that only those men who willingly work for the empire are like that. And when I say 'willingly', I mean, with joy in their hearts. Just because I don't like boys in general doesn't mean that I won't mean that a number of them actually do recognize what human decency is." Larcei told Lana. She then redirecting her attention back to Patty, she said "Don't worry, all of our men are chivalrous and know how to treat a lady with respect."

"Really?" Patty asked, remembering how Delmund had roughly dropped her.

"Oh, if you're thinking about the one who dropped you earlier, he doesn't count. Delmund isn't a man." Larcei said. Now it was Patty's turn to look bewildered.

Lana turned to Larcei "Then what do you think he is th- oh no."

"A Jackass." Larcei said matter-of-factly as Lana face-palmed. Lana was about to tell her off when a loud boom shook the dining room.

"What happened out here? It looks like Larcei got angry at the landscape."

"Very funny Delmund. Personally, I think that it resembles your head in a couple of moments." Larcei snapped back. She actually drew her thunder sword and attempted to use it on him once, but he dodged. She decided that he wasn't worth anymore of her time or energy, so instead she turned to Fee. "What happened here, anyways?"

"Arthur found a unique tome and he decided to try it out here. Obviously he didn't really know how to use it," she said indicating where Arthur was laying on the ground, flat on his back with his eyes wide open, still a bit stunned.

Larcei went up to him, kneeled next to him, looked him in the eyes and asked "Arthur, look at me and tell me the truth... you've been taking stupid lessons from Delmund, Lester, and Johan, haven't you?"

This snapped Arthur out of his shock and got him to crack up. Oifey, however, gave him a serious look. "You might find this funny, but seriously, do you have anything to say for yourself?"

"Yea, at least I made sure that nobody but me would get hurt if exactly this happened. Besides, it seems I did good, instead of harm, it's going to be easier to get to and from this place from now on," he said looking down the mountain. The entire front side of the cliffs had been reduced to rubble, creating a gently sloping downward path all the way down the mountain.

Lewyn scratched his chin "Be that as it may, we'll have to leave right away. This is sure to have alerted our enemies of our presence here, and they will prepare for an attack if we give them enough time."

"But Lewyn, We haven't been here a full day yet!" Seliph exclaimed.

"Do you honestly want to spend more than one day in this place?" Lewyn retorted.

"...Give the men an hour or two to prepare to travel again." said Seliph almost instantaneously.

During the interval after this incident and before leaving the shrine, Johan stopped Larcei in the hallway. "Larcei, why do you keep insulting me? Do you really think that I am that bad of a man?"

"Why do you ask? Did I hurt your feelings?" Larcei asked in a mocking tone.

"Larcei, do you really think that you are being fair to me? I've done a lot for your sake, and I've lost a lot to, and yet you treat me like I am your dog. I can't even get a clear idea of what your opinion of me is." he said, giving her a sorrowful look.

"You know my intentions, yet when I follow you, I'm not given threats nor told to quit it, neither by you or your brother. Even though you could easily enforce said threats... which gives me the impression that you aren't entirely disinterested in me. I don't know, I'm probably wrong, but that's the impression you give, yet at the same time, you fail to take me seriously. So tell, here and now, what do you want of me? What is it that you want me to do? Whatever it is I'll do it if it makes you happy." Johan said, getting desperate.

Larcei stopped, stared directly at Johan, put her hand sideways over her eyes, and slowly dragged it down the length of her face. Then she spoke to him, calmly and seriously. "Alright Johan, look. I like you as a person, and I really don't mind you following me around. But here's the thing... I'm not interested in finding a lover right now. All of my life, I've seen young women treated more like objects than individual people. Part of my motivation in continuing on this quest is to show the world that it is wrong about us girls. That a woman can be just as strong, just as self reliant as any man. That a woman can do anything as well as a man can, so as to end this... this marginalization we get. Being in a romance would kind of nullify that, don't you think?" she asked him giving him a sad, half smile.

"In the eyes of others, who'd look at a woman the same way no matter what you do, that may be so, but that doesn't mean that you aren't your own person if you are in love." pontificated Johan "But I'll let you come to that conclusion on you own, as for what you just said about me... if that's what you really think, then why all the mocking?"

"I figured that you could take it. Don't take any of this the wrong way Johan, I am not in love with you. I just enjoy your company and having fun with you. I'm really just nitpicking and exaggerating when I say stuff like that." she then held out her hand "Like I said, I'm not looking for a lover right now, but I am looking for a new best friend, and I'll let you have that spot if you are interested. If we reach the end of the war, and you are still interested in me, I might give you a different answer. I will give you that hope and opportunity."

"That is all that I ask of you." Johan said, taking her hand and shaking it. "So... does this mean the mocking will stop now?"

"No. I'll try to be less harsh, since I've obviously coming across the wrong way. Blame Delmund for that, but it isn't going to stop."

"Why not?"

Larcei grinned "Because you're a spoony bard and it's fun to tease you." she said, and she walked away.


"It means sentimental or foolishly lovestruck." Johan turned to see Shanan leaning against a nearby wall. "It's an old, outdated term, it was old and outdated when I was a child, so I don't know where she could have picked up that term. I feel like she's quoting something. What it could be, I have no idea." he sighed and stepped forward, hand outstretched.

"Anyways, it's nice to meet you Johan, I'm Shanan, uncrowned king of Isaac, and Larcei's cousin." noticing Johan's awkward greeting, he said "I'm not going to tell you off for trying to court her. If you can get her to temper her... temper and settle her down into a loving relationship, she's all yours, with my blessing. I bear you no ill will over your family's occupation of Isaac, I place the blame on your father and grandfather." Shanan said smiling. "Honestly, I'd like to be friends with you."

"Thank you very much sir. I...I'm grateful that passion and anger don't rule your life." said Johan, shaking Shanan's hand. "Though... I'm curious over why you seem so... laid back."

"I'm not actually laid back, I have simply learned to just... take life as it comes. Responded Shanan.

Chapter Text

The explosion at Yied had not gone unnoticed. The young lord Ishtore of Freege, who was residing at the border fortress of Melgen, realized what it meant as soon as he got word of it. He immediately went to his lover, Liza, to discuss their next plan of action.

"I would presume that their intention is to reinforce Leonster." she stated "So that leaves us with a choice. Do we bar their way or not? Because we are probably going to wind up being the next line of defense, Lord Bramsel won't do a thing unless he sees an opportunity to profit from the situation."

"It's... a tough choice." conceded Ishtore. I understand why they are doing this and sympathize with them. I do not agree with the way that my father is managing Leonster and the Manster district. I mean, the Loptyrians there are absolutely vicious! That's not even counting those who aren't technically dad's cronies. The liberation army is completely justified in their quest. Yet... at the same time, it's no choice at all." said Ishtore, sighing sadly.

If we let them continue moving forward, they will only get stronger and more organized as time progresses. Father will never yield to them, except maybe in desperation, so he's almost certainly going to be killed by the liberation army. They'll definitely want to kill mother, one of them will probably use Teeny as fodder, and Ishtar... Prince Julius has her wrapped around his finger. I don't foresee her breaking away, unfortunately. If I let them be, or submit myself to their mercies... chances are that I will be left as the last of my line. I could never live with that guilt... So fight them, we must." he said remorsefully

he sighed "Maybe now if we save the day, father will be inclined to listen to me for once. After all, is so preoccupied with retaking Leonster, he wouldn't see them coming until it is to late. We'd be saving his skin." he told her.

Liza gave him a sympathetic look "I understand. What do you want me to do?" she asked.

Ishtore grimaced, then said "Liza, I want you to lead our forces against them. Forgive me, I'd prefer to keep you out of harm's way, but you are the only one I trust enough to undertake a mission this critical. I hate to make you the executor of my dirty work, but..."

Liza smiled sadly and dragged him into a kiss. Keeping close, she said "I know. You don't have to say anything. Now don't worry, I will deal with it shortly. It will be a great honor for me. Anyway, if you or your family are taken out, what will I be left with? Who will I marry? Keep the house warm for me won't you Ishtore?" she asked with a sly smile before going to prepare her troops for battle.

"I'm sorry to hear about that" said Shanan as he and Ulster were walking towards the war counsel meeting. "Radney truly deserved a longer life. Honestly, I'm surprised that I wasn't told earlier. I mean, I suppose I should've guessed by how Roddleven has been asking, but still... I'll have to give him my condolences the next time that I see him. Where is he, anyways?

"I'm not really sure." said Ulster. "Maybe he's in the medical area? I've seen him talking to one of the healers on multiple occasions. I think they met during the liberation of Isaac. I think she's been talking with him and trying to console him."

"Well, in that case, I'll leave her to it. If they are having a heart to heart, I don't want to interrupt.

Little did Shanan realize, but he probably should've interrupted. Both of them had recently undergone huge losses, and they quickly found that they had a mutual attraction for one another, and so within a week of getting to know one another, their mutual verbal consolation turned into physical consolation. Something that would cause the both of them a lot of trouble later on. If Shanan had caught them right then and there, he probably could've nipped it in the bud. But as it was, their affair evolved.

"So, Femina, how do things look for us?" Seliph asked the scout.

"The ruler of Darna seems to be ignoring us. I saw troops, mercenaries by the look of them, stationed at the fortress, but there was no apparent hustle that would indicate that they were preparing for battle. I think that, at least for now, they would only attack in retaliation. Melgen, however is prepared for us. I saw a battalion of armor knights and thunder mages organizing in front of the fortress, oh and a couple of bastilles."

Amid pitched in with some more details "A quick trip into town revealed that these forces are to be lead by General Liza, a potent thunder mage. It is a known fact that she is the lover of the caste's lord, Ishtore of Freege. Rumor has it that they are actually unofficially engaged, or at the very least, engaging in certain... activities, together."

"So what you are saying is that she will protect the fortress with everything she has and thus she won't let us pass Melgen very easily." Lewyn concluded "Did you at least get a good look at the terrain?" he asked, Amid and Femina shook their heads.

"I did, Father!" piped in Fee cheerily. "The surrounding area is several layers of cliff. All the way to our right, we will have a mountain range, but sloping up and down the side of it is an elevated plain we could easily move troops onto, provided we get on it at the point where the mountains begin. There is a church on the slope. It's regular sized, and you can fit three of them side by side at the plane's widest point, and one and maybe a half at its narrowest. Then we have the main plateau just beneath that. It's about four times as wide as the plane, and then to the far left, we have a large chasm, best we stay way from that." she said, practically beaming with pride by the end. That smile disappeared when Lewyn failed to acknowledge her, and instead went straight to the planning with Seliph.

"This is what I recommend, Seliph. You take most of our ranged troops onto the upper plain, while Shanan takes our other fighters across the main plateau, but staying relatively close to the plain, so as to lure our enemy closer to our ranged fighters. Pegasus knights should go after the mages, and kill or capture any healers that the enemy brought along. Keep them away from the armor knights and out of the bastilles' range. Also, try to lure the enemy closer to Darna, or at least keep some troops back, as the ruler of Darna might attempt a surprise rear attack."

"Very well Lewyn, sounds like a good plan to me." Seliph told him.

The plan worked moderately well, as the Melgen forces mostly didn't stay to terribly close to the cliff initially, but Seliph's troops managed to redirect them. Getting desperate, Liza spotted Seliph on the upper plain and realized who he must be. "It is said that the leader of the rebels has blue hair like his father, Sigurd, and I see only one blue haired swordsman. If I take him out, then the rebel forces will have into disorder, and I can easily route them." she thought to herself.

She was near the bottom of the plateau at the time, and so she was quickly able to make her way up onto the upper plain. While scrambling her way up, she muttered to herself "Sorry, son of Sigurd, but your years of hiding were a waste and your trail ends here. As long as I live, I will never allow you to reach Melgen!" she eventually came up near Seliph's position, and quickly blew him off of his feet with a powerful thunder blast. As she prepared the killing blow, she said "Sorry prince, but Ishtore is worth more..."

Suddenly, her outstretched hand was pierced with an arrow. As she looked at the wound in shock, her left breast was pierced, then her right, then a fourth landed in the middle of her chest. She could only utter her lover's name one last time as her eyes rolled back as she tumbled off the ledge, and landed face first on the ground below, shoving the arrow heads out her back.

Lester helped Seliph to his feet, then, brought him to the church for healing. After some deliberation, it was decided that Oifey, Patty, Larcei, Lana, Roddleven, and a couple dozen other troops would stay with Seliph while he recovered, while the rest went forward to take Melgen.

A lone messenger brought the news to Ishtore. He brought it to him in the main audience chamber, where ten others were present. Upon learning of his lover's demise at the hands of a blue-haired archer, he went mad with grief. As he shrieked in dismay, he unintentionally let out a storm of electricity that fried everyone else in the room to a crisp. When he recovered enough of his senses to stop screaming, he went to the window and stared out the window, gripping the sill so hard that he drew blood.

He then decided that he would personally avenge his lover by utterly destroying her killer, and then it wouldn't matter what happened to him afterwards. As the rebel army entered Melgen, Ishtore laid in wait on the second floor balcony. A person with blue hair is not a common sight, even in a world where every hair color existed. As soon as Ishtore spotted Lester, he leapt of the balcony, and sent a blast from his Thoron tome straight down at him."

Lester heard a cry of alarm, and thus, barely dodged the attack, and Ishtore landed feet first, somehow not breaking his legs on impact, where the bolt had hit. Ishtore was clearly out of it. "YOU! YOU KILLED LIZA! I SHALL NEVER FORGIVE YOU!" he shrieked as he sent an unrelenting barrage Lester's way. One attack struck Lester's horse, killing it and sent Lester flying sideways, throwing him into an unintentional aileron roll. He managed to recover his senses just in time to avoid another bolt.

Lester ran as best as he could and started firing bent arrows like mad from his Brave bow in an attempt to make the barrage stop, but Ishtore blew them all out of the sky. Lester tried to simply run, but Ishtore shot the ground out from under him, flipping him onto his back. Lester made one last desperate grab at his bow, but was prevented by a kick to the face and a foot pinning his shoulder. "NOW. I WILL ANNIHILATE YOU!" Ishtore shrieked. Suddenly, he gasped and stepped back, allowing Lester to crawl back against a wall. He stared at his opponent, panting and sweating desperately.

Ishtore stared down at his chest. A sword was protruding from it. "Liza... I... no. I must still avenge..." he spluttered before grabbing the blade with his hands in some hope of pushing it out. However, his hands were still electrified. Lester guarded his face with his hand as Ishtore let out one last inhuman shriek as intense light erupted from his body. As it reacted to the metal meeting the powerful thunder magic. When Lester looked up, he saw a hand reaching down to him. Lester grabbed it.

Ulster helped Lester to his feet. "Thanks for that. A second or two later, and I would have been dead." Lester told him

"Understatement of the century, buddy; and you're welcome. Anything for a friend." Ulster said.

"Yea? Well don't think that this means that I'll let you have my sister, stalker. Speaking of which... Lana! Where are you? I need medical aid, PRONTO!" Lester called, leaving Ulster standing there, bewildered.

"But... Lana's with Seliph..." is all he could say as he wondered for how long Lester had known.

Chapter Text

Having witnessed Liza's defeat from his fortress, Lord Bramsel of Darna realized that it would probably be prudent to deploy the mercenaries he had hired. Thus he sent out orders for them to prepare to confront the enemy, and thus, soon thereafter they were all lined up outside the historic fortress, preparing to charge the enemy. One member of the mercenary band, however, was not with the rest mentally. Jabarro, the mercenary leader, noticed this, and went to talk to his best unit. "Something on your mind, Ares?"

Ares sighed heavily. "Yea, Leen didn't take me leaving very well. It escalated into a huge argument and well... we aren't on good terms right now, unfortunately. I hope that she'll forgive me once I return. I hope and pray that she wasn't being serious when she told me not to speak to her again."

Jabarro rolled his eyes as if to say 'is that all?', what he actually said was "Ares, why would you of all people get wrapped up in a girl like that? All seven members of a troupe of dancers were willing to give you a private show and keep you company, and yet you chose to stick with the one girl with a personality. Fine, I can sort of understand that, if that's your taste, I can't judge you for it, but then you adamantly refused to take full advantage of the situation. What have you been thinking?" Jabarro asked loudly. "Well, the whole affair is over and behind us now, so I suppose that means we can let the issue rest." he said with an exasperated sigh

Ares felt strangely disturbed by Jabarro's statement, despite the fact that it should have been mundane. "What... what exactly do you mean by that?"

"I imagine that by now, Bramsel's got all the girls locked up in nice little rooms, waiting for evening to come. You missed your opportunity, Ares, now Bramsel's going to seize his." Jabarro said smugly.

Alarm bells went off in Ares' head. "What?! But Leen is still a... I think they all are... how could you know this and not tell me?!" cried Ares, now starting to panic.

Jabarro rolled his eyes again. "Because Bramsel's got the right idea. We live a life of hard work, with no true opportunity to settle down. You work hard, then you play hard, and you don't form any meaningful connections. In the mercenary life, when you meet a pretty girl, you have your fun with her, then you move on with no commitments whatsoever to hold you down. I guess that this is the perfect opportunity for you to finally learn your lesson, Ares. Stay out of relationships. They will never work out the way you want them to. Forget your morals, they are obsolete in this day and age. Trying to uphold morals will only cause you misery and get you killed and rob you of the pleasures of life. Enjoy life while you can and don't short change yourself of anything." proclaimed Jabarro broadly.

Ares closed his eyes, "I see that I have greatly misjudged you, Jabarro." he said under his breath, then he opened his eyes and spoke out loud. "Is that all the fairer sex is to you, Jabarro? Items to be discarded? Do you not have any interest in the ultimate fate of any young maiden whatsoever? Do you have no sense of what is right and decent? They are all in their teens! Bramsel is in his sixties! He hasn't got a scrap of decency in him! Remember what he did to that sister and brother? Remember what he made them do when she denied his advances? What if he orders us to kill a bunch of men and their pregnant wives on some godforsaken battlefield? Would you follow his orders, no questions asked? The murder of a pregnant woman is about the second worst crime a man can commit!" shouted Ares.

"If a man allows a pregnant woman onto the battlefield, then their loss is his forfeit. I don't care if they are showing or not, if they get in the way, they are dead. Now stop going on this pointless tangent, Ares. It has gotten ridiculous and it doesn't have any relevance whatsoever in regards to our mission." said Jabarro, waving him off.

Now the mental image Ares had of the man who raised him was completely shattered. "Don't you understand what I'm saying?! He'll rape Leen! I have to go back and save her!" practically screaming.

"Don't you understand what I'M saying?!" Jabarro shouted back "I. DON'T. CARE! You're not going to play hero! Now get back into line, Ares! I don't take kindly to anyone who disobeys my orders, not even you. Especially not you!"

"Well that's too damn bad! We're done Jabarro! I'm going back, and anyone who bars my way will get a taste of Mystletainn!" cried Ares, drawing his sword.

"Ares you ingrate! I'll show you!" shouted Jabarro, drawing his sword as well, but Ares struck first. He stabbed Jabarro in the chest, punching right through his armor, killing him. Of course, Ares did not think this scenario through.

As soon as he turned on Jabarro, the other mercenaries turned on him. He wound up having to flee in the opposite direction of where he wanted to go. At first, he wondered what he could do, then the answer came to him. "Sigurd's son. It's my only chance. His father may be responsible for the death of mine, but... the enemy of my enemy is my friend. For now." Remembering the scout's report, he went straight to the church.

Seliph was only in bed for about an hour or two. The quality of the healing he got was so good, that he was able to walk, by himself, to the room where a meal was waiting for him. When he arrived, he walked right into Patty's line of sight. She proceeded to gawk.

"Wow! It's sir Seliph!" she exclaimed.

Since they had not yet properly met, Seliph was surprised by the sudden comment from the random girl standing in front of him. "...and you are?"

"I'm Patty! I'm Shanan's girlfriend."

Seliph got a laugh out of that comment. "Yea right, like I would believe that. Now seriously, who are you?"

Patty gulped "Oh. How did you figure that out so fast?"

"Two reasons: One- Shanan is quite popular with the ladies. Iv'e seen grown women literally throwing themselves at his feet, and he never showed any interest in any of them, or finding a girlfriend at all. Two- Even if Shanan were actively looking for a girlfriend, he wouldn't turn into a cradle snatcher."


"So you are a thief." stated Seliph.

"I was, but that's history. I'm here now, and I'm going to help you guys from now on!" she said winking.

Seliph closed his eyes "You can't be serious. This is an army. It's no place for a girl like you."

"Are you sure about that? What about money? You need money to wage a war, and I can get all the money that you need!"

"Stolen money is equivalent to blood money. We won't take it."

"And where, exactly, do you think the imperials get their gold from? The villages. Now where did you guys get the money you've spent so far?"

"The villages." Seliph said silently and bowed his head. After a prolonged awkward silence, he muttered "I guess we can make room for you." without looking up.

Patty beamed. "Thank you! I promise that I'll work just as hard as anybody else! Here, have this!" she said, and she proceeded to produce a sword from her bag. This got Seliph's attention.

"Wow, that's a nice blade." he said.

"It's a Brave Sword, said to be so well crafted that it allows the wielder to strike their foes twice as many times. Take it as a token of our friendship." declared Patty.

"Thank you, Patty. But... how did you get it?"

"How do you think?"

"...You're incorrigible, aren't you?"

"I guess it runs in the family. They say that my mother was a notorious pirate, and my father was some escaped war criminal, I wouldn't know, I don't even know his name."

"Oh really, well, Patty, do you know your mother's name?"

"Brigid." she said simply.

"I see... wait, WHAT?!" Seliph was shocked by this revelation. That was the name and background of Lester and Lana's missing aunt. If this girl was really the daughter of THAT Brigid... "Patty, does the name Yewfelle, mean anything to you? Do you have any skill with a bow and arrow?"

Patty was startled by those two questions. When she finally opened her mouth to respond, she was interrupted by fate. By fate, I mean Ares.

He burst through the main door shouting "I know that there are soldiers here, and I need their help. So come on out!" and rode right on up to the pulpit. This brought everyone in the building scurrying down the isles to the pulpit. "You must be Seliph." he said as soon as he spotted the blue-haired lord.

"Yes, I am. Who are you?"

"I am the black knight, Ares. But you might know me as the son of Eldigan the Lionheart."

This announcement caught Seliph completely off guard. He'd heard stories of King Eldigan and his tragic fate. This was the last place he was expecting to see him. And he certainly wasn't expecting to see him immediately after discovering the long lost niece of the woman who raised him. "King Eldigan's son? What are you doing here?" he asked.

As if fate wanted everything to happen consecutively, with no time for rest, the other mercenaries burst into the church. "Unfortunately, I'm seeking your aid in fighting them." Ares said. So those present in the church launched into battle. It was a rather short and one sided battle, with Ares claiming most of the kills.

After the battle, Seliph raised his hand to Ares. "Well, I bet that our fathers would have been happy for us to meet in battle. I hope we can have a relationship like theirs, or even better."

"Already planning on stabbing me in the back, are you?" Ares asked, arms folded.

"I'm... afraid that I don't grasp your meaning."

"I told you, I'm the son of Eldigan, the very same enemy of your father that he murdered. My mother went to her grave with that hanging over her head. HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?!"

"Really? I thought that our fathers were friends. I know that things ended horribly, but there was never any resentment between the two of them. The story that I heard was that he was executed by High King Chagall for refusing to fight my father."

"WHAT?! NO! That's the complete OPPOSITE of the story I've been told all my life!" cried Ares, suddenly unable to hate the man in front of him. More because it was blatantly obvious from Seliph's genuine statement that one of them had obviously been misinformed. Ares found it hard to justify retaliation in such a scenario. He wasn't immediately convinced of Seliph's side of the story, but Seliph's genuinely pleasant demeanor quickly cooled his desire for vengeance. He decided he'd figure out the truth later.

But for now, he had more important things on his mind. "We'll discuss that later. For now, I need to get back to Darna as soon as possible, and I'd appreciate some aid. My girlfriend is a member of a troupe of dancing girls located there, and I turned against the other mercenaries when I learned that Darna's lord, Bramsel had imprisoned them all. He's a dirty old man, and if I don't hurry back, then..." the others needed no further persuading. They realized where this was heading

"Why must you all struggle so much? I swear, each one of you gets feistier as I go along." said Bramsel as he backed Leen into a corner.

"Leave me alone you creep! Touch me and Ares will-"

"Do nothing. He's left you, and you're mine now! You do realize that you are the third girl in your troupe that I've visited so far, right? Therefore, you must realize, the end result will not be anything except what I want. No one is going to save you."

"Wold you bet your life on it, Bramsel?" said a voice from behind. Bramsel whirled around to see Ares standing there, sword drawn. "Get away from Leen now, and I'll kill you."

"Don't you mean OR you'll kill me?"

"No. You're dead either way." said Ares.

Bramsel decided that, for once in his life, he would try to be bold. "Come now, if I'm dead, who's going to pay you mercenaries? I'm sure Jabarro won't be happy about losing a steady source of income." Ares's eyes narrowed at this statement, and Bramsel misinterpreted this action. "That's right 'Black Knight' why don't you go and put your sword where it belongs, and then we'll forget all about this incident." he said smugly, while looking at Ares's scabbard. Ares lowered his sword.

Then drove it right through the middle of Bramsel's pants. "My sword belongs here. In the flesh of wicked men like you, so as to ensure that you will never hurt an innocent person again." Ares said venomously, driving the sword deeper at "never" and the dragging the blade up to his bellybutton at "again". Then he pulled his sword out and simply let Bramsel drop to the floor.

He hurried to Leen's side and spoke in a softer tone. "Are you alright, Leen?"

She nodded. "Yes, I suppose I am. Your timing was perfect. Any later and I would've been deflowered." Then her eyes welled up with tears, and she dove into his embrace. "Thank the gods you came back! I'm alright thanks to you! I... I only wish that I could say the same about the other girls. Apparently I was Bramsel's third visit."

Ares regarded her sadly and held her face in his hand. "Never again." he said, tears welling up in his eyes. "I'm taking you away from here. The liberation army... they aren't they type of people that I thought they were. I'm joining them, and you're coming with me. You won't be alone or abandoned again. I promise. This is a commitment that I'm willing to make."


Chapter Text

Lewyn had just given Seliph a speech about their predecessors and their current role in the world. Seliph was busy mulling it over when Roddleven came up to him with a report on what had happened in the dungeons with the troupe of dancers. "Three of them were simply locked up and scared. They had a few minor bruises, but they were otherwise unharmed."

"Was Ares' girlfriend among them?"

"She was in the dungeons, but she wasn't exactly in the unharmed group I'm referring to. She wasn't raped thank the gods. Barely. Ares reached her just in time, he arrived just as Lord Bramsel was making his move on her. A fact that they are both blatantly VERY happy about." said Roddleven, indicating the couple who had just come upstairs. Leen was hugging Ares as tightly as she could while he was carrying her bridal style.

"Wait...I thought I heard... weren't there more than four dancers?" asked Seliph.

Roddleven's expression grew deadly serious. "Yes, there were two more. Unfortunately, we did not get here in time to save them. Bramsel got to them first. One we found huddled in a corner, weeping, her clothes scraps on the floor. As for the other one... her clothes were stuck in the ceiling."

"In the ceiling? Why would they be... Shit. Where was the girl?"

"Right beneath them." Roddleven said sadly.

"Oh... no. Don't tell me." Seliph moaned. Then Larcei came up carrying a limp form, confirming his fears "OH. GODS. Damn it all to Hell!" he cried. He paced back and forth a bit, wiping the tears from his eyes, then he went over to the dead girl and stroked her golden hair sadly. "Who was she? Did anyone know her name?"

"Lucrete. Her name was Lucrete." Leen said, having Ares put her down. "I had only joined the troupe just before I met Ares, so I didn't know her well. But she was definitely the one with the strongest sense of modesty and self respect out of all of us." she said, looking to the body mournfully. "It... It doesn't come as a surprise that she would resort to this."

"Bramsel probably targeted her first for just that reason." Ares said, with a hint of anger in his voice. "He loved to demean people and he regularly spat in the face of other people's code of ethics."

"Was he that petty and cruel?" Seliph asked him.

"Yes. Once, a young woman and her brother 'offended' him (in reality, it was simply a matter of the sister bluntly turning down his advances and the brother calling him out on it). He did not take it well. He forced the two to... I'm sorry, I can't say it out loud, but it was disgusting. Then he had them executed for performing such a despicable act. He did what he wanted with the remains afterwards."

The others could guess what had happened. They all looked like they wanted to vomit.

"Who was the other one? The other dancer." Leen asked Roddleven, breaking the silence.

"I didn't ask her name, it didn't seem appropriate, but she had black hair-"

"Laylea, he got to Laylea too. So that means that Nina, Zura, and Olive made it through this ordeal relatively unscathed. Good for them, I suppose." Leen said.

"It makes sense that Bramsel would have gone after her next. She was the prettiest of the dancing girls." stated Ares. That statement got Leen's attention. She stared at him and Ares looked fondly back at her. "I didn't choose you because I thought you were beautiful, I chose you because I was genuinely interested in you as a person. Don't worry, next to Laylea, you come in a close second among your troupe members, but that was just a bonus factor." That response made her smile, and she hugged him again.

"What do you want us to do, sir? About the dancers, I mean." asked Roddleven.

"I say that we should give Lucrete a proper burial, and then have the three unharmed ones go on their way. Though if they declare that they want to come with us, don't stop them. Though the last one... the other one that Bramsel got to... Laylea, was it? I think we should take her with us. Regardless of what she says or claims to want. It hurts me to give an order like that or to force an issue like that... but a woman in her state should not be merely abandoned or just left with a select few people. Who knows what she might do in her shamed and grieving state! If she comes with us, at the very least she should have someone to care for her. Or at the very least, more people looking out for her." said Seliph.

"I don't think that's a very good idea." thought Roddleven to himself. "You may be thinking 'well, it worked for Roddleven', but my situation is different, and I met Mercy right after Radney died and, well. You also have no idea what the two of us have been getting up to since then. What we've turned to to console ourselves. Considering what she's gone through... I doubt this tactic would work for her. Bad idea, Seliph..." of course, not wanting to alert anybody of what he had been up to, he held his tongue.

As for the others, while they may have had concerns about Seliph's idea, no one had any better ideas, so no one voiced any objections to Seliph's proposition.

And so, the Darna team left the ancient fortress and went to rejoin the others at Melgen. On the way, Seliph got Lana to come by his side, and he restruck his previous conversation with Patty. Discovering her relationship with Lana, Patty was exited to learn that he lineage was far greater than she had thought, and she was quickly made exited over the prospect of long conversations over it with her newfound relatives.

In the meantime, Seliph's plan on what to do with Laylea ultimately proved to be a poor one, as Laylea wouldn't talk to anyone and kept away from everyone. It didn't help that everyone was distracted and that word of her fate had not spread as far as it really should have. A critical error on Seliph's part. When they reached Melgen, she wandered the halls alone, avoiding all contact from the people who only wanted to help. Eventually, she wound up on the roof. She shed silent tears as she stood on the ramparts, and then, she threw herself from them.

"It's amazing, really. It's stuff like this that makes me believe mom's spiel about benevolent gods might have some merit to it." Lester said as the three relatives walked outside the fortress at night, walking alongside a small cliff.

"Don't call it that, Lester. I don't see why you have problems with what mom has to say. Their are some bad gods, and sometimes the gods allow bad things to happen, but for the most part, the gods want to help us, and they are ready to give us blessings or good works to do. All we have to do is walk through life with our arms wide open, ready to receive them!" proclaimed Lana giving her brother the side eye.

Lester snorted "Oh, sure, that's very practical! Having my arms open all the time and telling the gods to throw something in them. Here, let me do that right now" he said, stopping by the cliff's edge and stretching his arms out over the edge. "Look gods! My arms are open, I feel like actually doing something with my life for once! So give me something holy and divine to do!"


"C'mon! Give me some great task to do! My arms are wide ope-WOAAAHHHH!" he was shocked when something heavy landed in the middle of his outstretched arms. He almost fell off the edge, but Lana grabbed the back of his shirt, and Patty grabbed his belt and pulled him back, and he landed flat on his back, thoroughly shocked and convinced that Lana had the right idea religion wise. "OK! I'll do whatever you ask! I'm sorry I mocked you! I'll never test you again, I swear!" he cried

"He's lived his entire life in the church, and THIS is what convinces him." deadpanned Lana as she rolled her eyes.

Patty took a closer look at what Lester had caught. "It's... a girl! Lana! It's that dancer girl from Darna! You know, the one that was..." she gulped "raped."

"She... tried to kill herself? But that's why Seliph brought her here in the first place! To prevent that, I mean!" Lana exclaimed.

"Oh just let me go! I have no reason to go on!" Laylea exclaimed as she squirmed and tried to wriggle out of Lester's grasp and over the edge.

Lester grasped her firmly and pulled her back. "Oh no you don't! C'mon, we're going to have a little talk. Over there looks good!" he said. Taking her up in a bridal carry, he carried her over to an open area with no easy access to ledges. Then they proceeded to talk. Lana and Patty let Lester carry most of the conversation. They all made their arguments with Laylea until Laylea said.

"But it doesn't matter! I'm damaged goods! Damaged beyond repair, no good for anything anymore other than street work, and I refuse to stoop to that level. All that is left to do is for the broken pieces of my soul to be tossed away and forgotten.. along with the rest of me."

"That's what we said about mom's rainbow pot... initially." Lester said.

"I'm sorry, WHAT?!" Laylea exclaimed, utterly confused.

"Mom's pot! That's it! Well, it's more of a vase, but whatever." said Lester. "Yes, I think that'll do. That story is probably just what you need he said looking up into the sky. Refocusing and looking at her, he continued.

"Ok, well here's the story. To celebrate their fifth anniversary, my dad gave my mom this beautiful, multicolored vase that she absolutely loved. Well, about ten years ago, mom was pregnant with a surprise third child, and dad got it into his head that it was somehow a good idea to go all the way to her homeland of Jungby to get some special flowers that mom grew up with to celebrate it. Mind you, we lived in northern Isaac. Don't ask me why he thought it was a good idea, because he never came back." he sighed and looked westward for a moment before continuing with the story.

"Afterwards, mom gave the baby, a girl, a name based off of our dad's (Dad was named Midir, our sister's named Midayle) and put the vase on permanent display on top of a prominent table in our home. After dad had been gone for a couple of years, mom began to get... unwanted suitors. Well, the thing about my parents is that they had been pining away after one another for years before they finally got together. Like, from what I hear they essentially considered each other a forbidden fruit and it took my grandfather's murder and them being forced into exile to finally act on their desire for one another. Anyways, this made my mother fiercely loyal to my dad, and so she rejected them all. One man in particular, didn't take her rejection well, and he smashed the vase completely."

"Oh... she must have been devastated" said Laylea, strangely engrossed in his story, despite all the tangents.

"She was. And you know what? Those exact things that you said about yourself, were said about that vase. They were going to throw it out, but I would have none of it. I became determined to fix it, for mom's sake. And do you know what? I succeeded. Somehow I, a mere child, repaired it and made it useable again.

"Wow... that's incredible!" exclaimed Laylea

"What can I say? I have good eyes... and steady hands... and a lot of patience. But here is the interesting thing and the point of the story. Everyone seemed to like that pot better after I fixed it. It got more admiration, and more compliments. They were genuine compliments too. To this day, complete strangers will walk into our home and compliment it. Reminds them of a church window, or something. I guess they thing it's supposed to look like a mosaic?" Lester shrugged, then looked directly into Laylea's eyes.

"Now, you may be wondering what this may have to do with you. Simple, if a broken vase...pot... whatever. Can be repaired, then so can a broken person. Let us help you to put your life together. Let me help you. The world may say that in your current state, you are worthless and useless. Well, we are currently fighting against the world, so you are in the perfect place to make a recovery! Let me repair you, Laylea. Let me be your friend. I won't hurt you or take advantage of you, I promise. I was raised in a church, so I'd like to think that hurting a beautiful young lady would be the last thing on my mind! What do you say, will you let me help you?"

"Really? I would think that after growing up in that environment, getting out of it and getting laid would be priority one!" Laylea said completely deadpan. Lester stared at her in utter disbelief. She couldn't keep a straight face, and they both broke down into tearful laughter. Then Laylea wrapped Lester in a hug. "Thank you! Thank you so much!" she cried as she sobbed into his chest, while Lester patted her back.

He looked at the other two girls. "Go on in ahead of us. I'll bring her in in a couple of minutes." he mouthed. They nodded and went back inside.

Chapter Text

After arriving at Melgen, Oifey began hunting for Shanan. He found his oldest friend sitting in a chair in the library, reading a book. After going through the basic formalities, Oifey decided to move on to a topic of interest. "Hey Shanan, I don't know if you were brought into the loop or not, bu we've found out a couple of interesting things about that thief girl that you brought with you from the Yied Shrine."

Shanan raised an eyebrow. "Oh really? And those would be..."

"Well, for starters, it turns out that she is actually Brigid's daughter."

Shanan froze and the book began to slip out of his lap. He hastily slipped a bookmark in and decided he was better off putting the book to the side instead of keeping it on his lap, and so he put it to the side. "Really? How did you figure that out?" he asked, eyebrows raised.

"She got into a conversation with Seliph, and she mentioned offhandedly that her mother was a pirate and then Seliph asked her what her mother's name was. A follow-up conversation confirmed that it was indeed the Brigid we knew. That's how we found out."

Shanan made a face. "I mean, the facts that her name was Brigid, she was a pirate, and that Patty is blonde should've been confirmation enough, but OK. Well, that's interesting to know. I never would have guessed it on my own... at the very least not without some kind of hint or indicator. She doesn't particularly resemble any of the other Jungby women. It makes me wonder who the father is. Did she tell you?"

"She doesn't know." Oifey said shaking his head.

"My gut reaction upon looking at her would be to say that Dew was her dad. Problem with that is, he already fathered Ulster and Larcei, so that would make him a philanderer and a general ladykiller. I honestly can't imagine him being either of those. Hell, I still have trouble understanding how he wound up with my aunt! He never seemed to be her type at all!"

"Do you doubt their word on the matter? On the twins parentage? Because they BOTH claimed Dew was the father, and I honestly can't picture AYRA saying that unless it was the truth."

"I always have thought there was something fishy about the twins's parentage, Oifey. There's just something about it that doesn't seem to add up or make sense to me... but this conversation isn't about them. Or that. Back to the subject at hand, it probably would have been easier to make the familial connection if she used a bow. She's a thief, did she sell the Yewfelle?"

"Apparently, she has an older brother who's a mercenary. You get three guesses on what he's known for." snarked Oifey.

"I see. Any other revelations?"

"She claimed to be your girlfriend." said Oifey, grinning slightly.

Shanan rolled his eyes. "Oh please! Don't tell me that you believed that! You know perfectly well that I have a trail of crazy girls following my every move, going on and on about how great I am for no real reason! Any one of them would claim the same thing. Yet they lack anything to back up those ludicrous hopes and dreams, or make them reality."

"She's cute, and she's nobility." Oifey said in a semi-suggestive voice.

"And she's a kid. Practically fresh out of the cradle. How old is she? 10? 8?"

"According to her, she's 15."

"Still to young for a relationship."

"If you want to get technical and go by the laws of the land... not really. Legal marrying age is actually younger than everyone thinks it is. It usually isn't taken advantage of, but it wouldn't surprise me if it is during this campaign. The young men and women in a war. Hormones are going to be flying. Anyways, 15, that's just a couple of years younger than everybody else on this campaign, and I really don't think there would be any arguments if a couple of them decided to get married at any point. Don't say those couple of years make a difference. Lady Ethlin was twenty when she was killed. Killed while trying to protect her perfectly legitimate three year old daughter." pontificated Oifey

"How do you know that's how she died? There weren't any witnesses on our side." asked Shanan

"I know, because she was a mother."

Shanan conceded the point. "Ah well, it's still not happening. Call it a personal problem. I was around her age now when she was born. To me, getting into a relationship with someone like her is equal to cradle snatching. Do I look like a cradle snatcher to you?" Shanan said, pointing at his face.

Oifey went to the door without answering. He was halfway out the door, when he turned around, stroked his mustache, and said "Do you want an honest answer?" and then he bolted.

Shanan sat still for a moment. "Honest answer? What's he- OIIIIFEEEEYYYY!" he shrieked, leaping over his chair, grabbing the Balmung, and giving chase.

"Did he really say that to you?" Julia asked Ulster, who nodded in response. "Well, so obviously Lester knows, and I can't imagine him keeping it from her, so I guess that means that I don't have to keep things a secret anymore. Maybe I should just talk to her about it." she suggested, half smiling in semi-relief at the idea of being unburdened with this secrecy.

That got Ulster to panic. "No! Don't tell her anything! If anything, I should tell her, but I'm not ready yet. Trust me, he'll want a full on confrontation with me first."

Julia sighed "Why are we even bothering?"

"Excuse me?"

"We agreed to help each other win over the person we are enamored with, but neither of us seem to have gotten any closer to them. I mean, look! When we split up into teams, we wound up separated from them, and the people that we are interested in stayed with one another! Honestly, I think it might be a sign that it's never going to happen."

"C'mon Julia! A sign? It's only natural that the healer that Seliph has known longer than any other would stay with him in order to help him recover. I need to see something less mundane in order to be convinced." As soon as he finished that sentence, Oifey dashed through the room where they were standing in a rather frantic fashion. He was followed shortly thereafter by Shanan, who was waving the Balmung at him.

Julia gave Ulster a look. "That's not as unusual as you would think." he told her after a brief pause. "Well, that's not something unusual for Shanan to do. It IS unusual for Oifey to be the one he's chasing though. I wonder what caused it. Whatever, that's not actually important. They're best friends, they aren't a real danger to one another. Let's get back to the subject at hand."

"I see... Ulster, is this the only thing we can discuss and the only way we can discuss anything?"

"...Elaborate please."

"Instead of sneaking around trying to win lovers, can't we go someplace more open and talk about everything else? I'd like to go to the market with you and have a normal, friendly discussion."

"Julia... are you asking me out on a date?"

She shook her head. "No, I just want to be friends, and this sort of behavior isn't good for a healthy friendship. It's not healthy for me! It doesn't sit well with me, it never has. I would like to do something normal with you for once. Please?" she asked, folding her hands in front of her.

Ulster made a face and said. "Alright then. "We'll go out. I'll pay."

"You seem to be a bit on edge." Fee said to Arthur, as they walked the corridors.

"Do I? Well, there is a good reason for that. My sister is in Alster, remember? It's right across the border."

"Oh yea, you must be very excited to be so close to your goal. Excited and nervous. You haven't seen each other in years, right?"

Arthur nodded "Yea, she was a toddler when she and my mother were taken away from me. It's always been my dream to reunite with them. Well, now I can only accomplish half of that dream. But half a dream fulfilled is better than none of it. I only hope that I can accomplish that half."

"I hope so too. I bet Amid feels the same way."


"Your cousin? The one who punched you in the face at Yied?"

"Yeah, I suppose he does feel the same way."

"You... don't seem to have the best relationship with him."

"Amid and I have never really seen eye to eye. Having numerous problems with each other's leadership style is a big factor in that."

"Leadership... that reminds me, he brought up a bunch of names after he punched you. I thought you were alone in Silesse."

"I never said that, Fee. I though I told you that I was part of a large group. It's true that nobody raised me, but that's not the same thing as being alone all my life. No, I joined a group of other orphans of varying ages who fended for themselves... together. We didn't actually have a group name, but we did have a knack for getting into dangerous situations. Deadly situations. Over the past decade I've come to know about 70 different people who came and went. When I say went, I mean in a permanent fashion. Add in the list of people Amid says are now dead, about six or seven of those people, at best are still around. Amid and I were both the leader at one point or another. We blame each other for the deaths that happened during those periods. So yea, we don't have the best relationship."

Fee didn't know what to say next, other than "Damn..."

"Oh no! Fee said a curse word! It must mean it's the end of the world!" Arthur mockingly exclaimed. She gave him a look, but then realized that his expression was softening as he looked into the middle distance, so she softened her own expression. "But seriously, my experiences have made it hard to interact with and relate to others. I haven't let anyone completely into my heart and life in years, not even you." he looked at her "Sorry if that hurts or disappoints you, but the last time I let someone in..." he trailed off and then he rolled up a sleeve to reveal a nasty scar.

Fee began to debate internally about prying further, but then Oifey and Shanan dashed past them, completely derailing her train of thought. "What are they doing?!" she thought out loud. "They're acting like children!"

"Good for them!" Arthur said in a cheerful voice. Fee gave him a bewildered look. "What fun can be had as an adult when you can't throw everything to the wind and act like a child every once in a while?" growing serious again, he silently added "I only hope that Teeny remembers how."

Shanan and Oifey's chase had reached the courtyard when a voice called out to them. "Oifey! Isaacian!" The two of them stopped in their tracks and turned to see Ares standing there, arms folded. "WHAT. THE HELL. ARE. YOU. DOING?!"

They were both left stammering until Shanan pointed to Oifey and said "he called me a cradle snatcher!"

Ares raised an eyebrow. "Seriously? THAT'S your excuse? And you said it like a kid whining to his parent? If this is how you, the oldest ones here behave, then I can't imagine how everyone else acts. Perhaps it's good that I decided to join you for the rest of your campaign. You people obviously need some straightening out!" he said sternly, before walking off.

The two of them were silent for a couple of a moments. Shanan spoke first. "Was that-"

"Ares of Nordion, son of Eldigan the Lionheart. He joined us when we were taking Darna. He did it to rescue his girlfriend, but then they decided to stick around. Speaking of her, I have a sneaking suspicion that she is Sylvia's daughter. You'll see why once you meet her." explained Oifey.

"I'm going to guess that it is because they look similar. Kind of like our suspicion that-"

"He told us not to talk about it. Still don't understand why." Oifey interrupted.

They were silent once again, and then Oifey said "Wow. Scolded by someone who was still a toddler back when we first began to fight... I think that I'm going to find a room and go to bed. How about you?"

Shanan looked at Oifey for a couple of moments. Then he smacked him in the face with the hilt of his blade, while simultaneously sweeping Oifey's legs from under him. This left Oifey sprawled on the floor with a bloody nose. "I'm going to do that too. You, however, should get that checked out before you do what you just said." he proclaimed. Then he left.

"It's hard to believe that the little boy who used to fling pies everywhere, and the young man who to this day still plays tricks on everyone around him, can say something so sensible and sweet. It's one of the rare glimpses that I occasionally get of his better nature." said Lana as she and Patty re-entered the fortress.

Patty was made curious by that statement. "Excuse me? flinging pies? Care to explain?"

Lana sighed. "Back when he first began his habit of constantly pranking everyone, it wasn't with the variety and the amount of thought or ingenuity that he pulls them today. It was just one trick that he practiced. He would steal a pie from the kitchen, hide someplace, and then throw or smack it into the face of the first person to come his way. He kept it up for a while, and it kind of reached its peak when one day he hit mom with one, but she let it slide. Big mistake. He went wild doing it until one day he hit a guest of honor. I can count the number of times I've seen mom mad on my fingers. On one hand. This was one of those times. After giving Lester a firm reprimand, she ordered the kitchen staff to stop making pies, which was bad news for Lester."

"Why? Did he have a nervous breakdown because he couldn't keep up his habit? Did he find something else to throw that hurt more, therefore resulting in the biggest punishment of his life?" asked Patty.

"No. The church that our mom runs also doubles as an orphanage, and all the kids that lived there LOVED sweets." she let her words hang in the air for a couple of seconds before continuing. "Once he was able to walk again, he never touched another pie except to eat it."

Patty broke down laughing, and Lana joined in. When they entered the courtyard, Lana stopped laughing. "OH-MY-GOSH OIFEY!" she cried and ran to him. She sat him up and used her heal staff on him. "What happened? Who attacked you? Are there assassins lurking nearby?"

Oifey shook his head. "No. What you see here is the results of telling Shanan that he looks like a cradle snatcher."

Lana stared at him for a few moments. Then she smacked him over the head with her staff. "Seriously Oifey?" she cried "Why would you pull a Delmund? I take back my concern. You know what? I take back my healing too." and she whacked his nose with her staff.

Chapter Text

Teeny walked quickly and meekly towards her uncle's office, her cousin Linda trailing behind her. As they were about to enter, the could hear the triplet mage generals; Vampa, Fetra, and Eliu; promise to eliminate the rebel army quickly. Once the trio exited the room, Blume called the two girls inside.

"Ah, Teeny, Linda. I'm glad that you are here. You two will fight for me, won't you?" he asked them in a semi-soft tone.

"If that's what you wish." said Teeny quietly.

Linda, being the more bold of the two, asked "Why must we fight uncle? What has happened that you would send us out to battle? I thought that you said that you had it handled."

Blume got mad at that question. "You dare to question me?! After all the trouble I went through in raising the both of you after your mothers passed away? Don't tell me you've forgotten everything that I've done for you!"

Teeny squeaked out a no and recoiled, shrinking as small as she could into her chair. Meanwhile Linda barely flinched and said "Of course not, sir."

Blume gave them both a look, took a deep breath, and calmed down and looked out the window. "But I suppose it is a fair question. I suppose that neither of you have been informed that..." he straightened up and looked directly at them "The rebel army is on its way here to reinforce Prince Leif at Leonster. They have carved a path from northern Isaac, and I have just received word that they have taken Melgen. spies have confirmed that both Ishtore and Liza are dead..." he said. As he did, his voice quavered, and his grip tightened on his desk. His hands were visible shaking.

Teeny gasped and broke down crying. Linda jolted, and tears started to slowly run down her cheeks. Blume walked up to both of them and stroked their cheeks, then held both of their chins up "They will destroy us if I give them a chance, and I won't give them that chance. I sent the mage sisters to deal with the main force. But I don't want to take any chances. I want you to flank them and attack their commanders while they are distracted by the triplets. Having their main force crushed will hurt them, but not enough to prevent another uprising. Having their leaders annihilated by two young girls? That should prove to them how futile their resistance is. Now go girls. Be my instruments of vengeance." Teeny sniffed and nodded her head

Linda nodded vigorously. There was fire in her eyes "Yes uncle." she proclaimed.

While the mage squads prepared, the cousins decided to discuss what their uncle had ordered them to do. Teeny had a lot of hangups about it.

"Linda? Are we sure that we are doing the right thing? The villagers all think that the rebel is a group of heroic liberators."

"Then why would they have to kill Ishtore?" Linda asked back. "They could've just taken him prisoner. But no, he's dead, and uncle is very torn up about it. That's why he's having members of his family exact vengeance."

"Are you sure he's torn up about it?" Teeny asked back.

"Of course he is! Didn't you see the state of his office? It was completely trashed! Anyways, why wouldn't he be hurt by the loss of his only son?"

"I don't know, he always seemed to care about Ishtar more than Ishtore. Are you sure this isn't an excuse to get rid of us while giving a justifiable excuse for getting rid of us to Ishtar?"

"Ishtar got more attention because she inherited the ability to wield the Mjolnir tome. Ishtar wasn't her father's favorite, in fact, she was more of her mother's favorite, even then it was mostly because of that and Prince Julius' attraction to her. Uncle has always preferred his son. Really Teeny, I don't see why you think so little of uncle, he never beat you or your mother."

"He never tried to stop Hilda from doing so either."

"Well, yea, because aunt Hilda is a vicious monster that uncle has no real control over. I despise her as well, but just because she is nasty, doesn't mean uncle is as well. There is no reason to hate uncle for the actions of his wife."

"You talk like it is nothing, Linda, because Hilda never treated you as severely. your mother didn't have as many 'crimes' leveled over her head. You can't claim to know exactly how I feel! Most of the time we were kept separate, remember? We didn't even meet until we had both been here for a couple of years!" Teeny exclaimed. Any further discussion was prevented by the signaling of the mage squads that they were ready to move out.

As the liberation army marched on Alster, Arthur pulled Amid to the side. "Based on the reports from the scouts, we've got mage fighters incoming. I suggest that we break away from the others and scope them out ourselves."

"Why, pray tell, should we do that? Plan on playing the hero again, Arthur?" responded Amid harshly.

"We are both from a family of mages that lives right here, Amid. There is a strong possibility... well that we really should know ahead of time, rather than getting a nasty surprise. Take a moment to figure out what I mean, I really hope that I don't have to spell it out." retorted Arthur angrily.

Amid understood almost immediately "Do you really think that Blume would send-"

"I've never met the man. Therefore, I wouldn't and couldn't presume that there is any action that is beneath him. Especially considering what I've heard so far about how he's run this country." responded Arthur.

Amid thought it over for a moment, then said "I agree. We'll follow your plan... this time."

The two of them got lucky, as they did come across Teeny and Linda while they were out scouting. Or rather, Teeny and Linda came across them, spotting them through the trees while they were going through the forest and arguing. Linda started firing magic spells immediately, while Teeny uttered an apology before joining in. Amid began to shoot back, but Arthur, noticing the pendant hanging from Teeny's neck and the resemblance that she held to his deceased mother, rushed between them in order to stop the fight. "Wait, wait, wait, STOP!" he cried, raising his arms in the air.

He stared directly at Teeny and pointed "Hold on a second, where'd you get that pendant?"

The other three stopped spellcasting and stared, all of them baffled by his actions. "This? It was my mother's." said Teeny, fingering the jewel.

"Then at long last, I've found you Teeny!" Arthur exclaimed. Amid immediately relaxed and looked straight at Linda and smiled.

"Then you're... ah, hey Linda. It's been a while, hasn't it?"

Linda and Teeny stood still, completely still, completely and utterly baffled at how these two complete strangers new who they were. Arthur pulled out a pendant that matched Teeny's. "I've had this my whole life. Does it seem familiar?"

"They... they're identical! What is this all about? WHO ARE YOU?" cried Teeny.

Arthur walked up to her and knelt beside her. He put his hand on her shoulder and declared. "My name is Arthur. I am your brother, Teeny. Our mother and father... well, let's just say that they were members of the original resistance against the Granvelle empire, before it was an actual empire. After the resistance failed, our parents fled to Silesse and had us. When you were young, our father disappeared, and soon after that, you and mother were taken away while I was out of the house. He burned the place down. I've spent a decade trying to not only survive, but find you, with no luck. Then recently I found out that it was King Blume that had taken you, and that he had brought you here."

"Blume... did that? This is the first time I've heard about this... but it explains a lot... like why mother was always so sad...oh this is just to much!" she exclaimed, and she dropped to the floor.

"Teeny, would you come with us? There's much that we need to talk about."

"...OK. I didn't want to fight any of you anyways. But... what about Linda? She's-"

"Our cousin, I know. Your'e not the only one with a long lost brother." he said, indicating Amid.

Linda looked at Amid "Yea, I'm your brother." he said. "Unlike Arthur though, you only have my word as proof. Sorry that I can't provide better evidence. If you don't trust me-"

Linda raised a hand. "No, I believe you. Going with you will probably give me a better quality of life anyways."

They all stood silently, smiling, for a couple of moments, then an explosion erupted right next to Teeny, making her jump. They had completely forgotten about the battle at hand. To make matters worse, Vampa had seen the end of the exchange and summoned her sisters. "So the brats have turned traitor. Do you know what we do to traitors?" she asked.

"Amid, get the girls out of here, I'll handle this, my way." growled Arthur.

Amid gave him a look, then he shrugged, nodded, and grabbed the girl's hands, and ran off with them. "His way?" Linda asked.

"We are both well trained, skilled mages, but Arthur is not... orthodox in the way he fights. It's probably best to get any allies out of the way of any crazy plans that he might have. Or to have you used as hostages. We just got you back, we don't want either of you to be collateral damage."

"But he can't take them alone!" Teeny cried.

"Yes he can." Amid reassured her, "he's done this kind of thing before!"

"Fool boy, your only chance of survival just ran off. Now you shall pay the price. FETRA! ELIU! TRIANGLE ATTACK!" Vampa cried as she prepared her magic and her sisters followed suit. Arthur dove out of the way as best as he could. After the spells had been cast, Arthur jumped out from the dust cloud, ducked and rolled, and came to a stop right in front of Eliu, and blasted her with his wind magic. Thanks to the way that Arthur executed the spell, she was launched several feet into the air and into a nearby tree. Vampa rushed by her side and forced her to warp out. Fetra started firing Elwind spells. He dodged most of them, but took a hit. This made him stop and fling a wind spell above her head.

"Missed." she said smugly. Then a giant tree branch fell on top of her.

"Nope." said Arthur. Fetra warped away. Arthur turned to face Vampa, but she had left. Seeing how quickly he had dealt with her sisters, she decided it would be best to find a different target.

Ulster's sword went cleanly through the mage's neck and he spun to face his next opponent, who got a lucky shot in before Ulster dealt with him as well.

"Ulster! Are you alright? I just saw you take a hit!" Julia called, rushing to his side.

"Yea, I'm alright, I got a little scorched, that's all. Nothing to worry about."

"Even so, it definitely won't be anything to worry about if I have a look and make sure. Now let me se-" she was interrupted by an explosion that knocked them both off their feet. As Ulster regained his senses and lifted his body off the ground, he could see Julia in the corner of his eye, in the same position that he was.

"This is the second time today I've caught a group of you rebels off guard because you were talking. How is it that you are winning when you're this easily distracted and ambushed?" Vampa said as she approached Ulster. She prepared to cast Elfire. "Well, I can't complain. It leads to me have easy prey." suddenly, she felt a massive drain of energy, and the spell dissipated. Vampa looked at her own body, afraid that this was what death, or at the very least what taking a bad stab wound felt like. Thus she was baffled to find that there wasn't a scratch on her. She heard footsteps, and she turned to see Julia on her feet, tome ready and hand raised, with not a scratch on her.

"Your offensive has failed. Leave now, and let me attend to my patient." Julia said firmly, casting Rezire again to put emphasis on her words. "Unless you really want to test your remaining strength against mine."

Vampa growled "I'll retreat for now, but don't think that I'll forget this." and she warped away.

Ulster was utterly amazed. "Wow Julia, I'm surprised. Surprised and impressed. I didn't think you had it in you to speak like that!"

"Was I to rough? I didn't want to see you getting hurt and I-" she said rapidly, not realizing that she was blushing slightly.

Ulster didn't notice. "No. That was good. That was great, actually. I don't think Lana could have pulled that off. Like I said, I'm impressed." he said, brushing her cheek, not realizing how intimate that action was. "Well, you said that you wanted to contribute. I can definitely report that you are indeed contributing. Let's go see if we can help someone else."

"R-Right!" stammered Julia. This was an incident that Ulster wouldn't soon forget.

Chapter Text

"Alright men, we have broken through the force that the enemy has sent to guard the border, and we are almost upon Alster. Now that we are on Thracian soil or... I don't know we're on the peninsula but not technically in the country so what should I say, Mansterian soil? I guess it doesn't matter. Any which way, we need to split our forces and send a portion of them up north while the rest of us take Alster." Seliph declared to his gathered friends and fellow soldiers.

"Split them? Why split them now of all times? Why split them at all? Are you sure that you should be leading this army?" Delmund questioned in a loud voice.

"Have you truly forgotten the reason that we are here, Delmund? You of all people? We have come all this way in order to aid my cousin Leif, whom Lord Blume has pinned down in Leonstar. They've been under siege for six months, and our scouts say that Blume is constantly sending in reinforcements in an effort to prevent us from gaining allies and well, to kill my cousin. Leif's army is on the verge of defeat because of the relentless assault. If we take Alster, but loose Leif and his forces, then it will be an empty victory."

"Oh. I forgot about all that. I thought we were on a general quest for freedom." Delmund muttered.

"Really? Quite frankly, I'm shocked that you of all people have forgotten about this mission. After all, your sister, Nanna, is under siege right alongside him. As is your stepfather."

"Sis-? Oh, right. I forgot that I actually have living family members." Delmund said under his breath, a bitter tone in his voice.

"I was actually going to send you as my personal messenger for that very reason. But since you clearly are not interested..." said Seliph

"No, of course I am. I'll be your messenger boy." Delmund said hastily.

"Good. Oh, and you won't be going alone. A few troops will be in the advance group with you, and then a portion of our army will be right behind you. In the meantime, the rest of us will take Alster and deal with King Blume. We'll catch up with you as soon as we can."

"I'll deal with Blume." declared Arthur, cracking his fingers. "I owe him a lot."

"I understand your sentiment, but the last time I let someone go after a ruler on a revenge mission, Larcei lost her best friend, and Roddleven his sister." Seliph said, shaking his head.

"I know, I was there. That's why I have a plan of attack, and won't be simply rushing off after him like a charging bull in the middle of battle. In fact, my plan should make the battle rather swift."

"...I'm listening." Seliph said.

With the Liberation Army on his doorstep, Blume locked himself and about fifty guards inside the throne room, ready and waiting to counter the enemy assault, should they burst through the narrow door. The room was sealed except for two side windows with a small platform, large enough for a lookout to survey the battle below and report what was going on if they turned around and took two paces into the room.

One of them was doing this now. "Their archers have taken out a number of ours, and they seem to be on the verge of breaking through the main gates. It appears that we are actually losing this battle, sir." reported the lookout.

"The fight is not over yet. Go back to your post and continue reporting what you see. Our troops should have taken Leonstar by now and be returning with hostages. That will turn the tide of battle in our favor. You'll see, we will be winning this soon enough." said Blume confidently.

As the lookout turned about in order to return to his post, there was a muffled sound, and then a fireball streaked across the room and hit the support for the very large chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The chandelier fell to the floor and crushed four guards, and left another two with their legs pinned to the ground. All of the mages fired back at the source of the fireball. They missed their intended target, however, and ended up blowing a large hole in the wall and obliterating a stained glass window.

Suddenly, a cloud of green-tinted smoke rolled in, charged with electricity. It landed in the center of the room, then exploded outwards and knocked everyone off of their feet. When they got back on their feet and looked back at where the cloud had landed, they froze when they saw that in the place of the cloud was a teenage boy and a pegasus knight.

"What is the meaning of this?" Blume bellowed.

"It means that your rule is at an end, "King" Blume the Ass, now that I have had the displeasure of meeting you."

Blume made a face at the sheer nerve of the declaration. No one had ever had the gall to say the gall to say something like that to his face before. "Exactly who do you think you are?" he shouted angrily

"Arthur. Son of your sister, Tailtu of Freege, and Azel of Velthomer. Though I really don't want to claim relation with either family. They both deserve to end." he said as he started pacing the room. "I've gone ahead and taken my sister back, just so you know. I hope you mind. Now, I think we should have a little talk, mage to mage." as he said that, he held out a hand and made a flame appear.

"We can do that... while you're rotting in my dungeon!" Blume roared "Really, you pompous brat, do you really think that a man of my stature would agree to a duel when I have no real reason to? If you really wanted a fight so badly, you should have brought some backup in order to put some more weight behind your challenge!"

"Oh! Man... I should have thought of that." Arthur said with a worried look on his face. Then he launched a fireball out the nearest window. "No... wait... I did." he declared with a victorious smirk on his face as all of the Pegasus knights the liberation army had flooded the room through the opening the mages had accidentally created. The came in with two people per Pegasus, with Roddleven, Lester, Seliph, and even Julia leaping off the backs of the winged beasts and launching their assault on the assembled guards.

Blume, the coward that he was, slipped out through a back door, but Arthur noticed. Telling Fee to cover him, he gave chase.

Being younger, Arthur caught up with Blume quickly. Realizing a stairway was not a good place to fight, and knowing where the stairs were placed, Blume blasted a hole in the wall and ran out into the adjacent room, and Arthur followed. The chase eventually led to the dining hall. The table was all set because the residents were just about to start dinner when the liberation army attacked. The two faced off, each with their back to a wall.

Arthur launched an Elfire spell at Blume, however, although the attack struck home and Blume grunted in pain from the attack, in truth, it barely affected him. "Surprised?" Blume asked Arthur. "My psychotic wife is a Velthomer! She uses a tome that makes fire erupt from the ground AND she has a short temper! I'm well equipped for any fire based spells that you may throw at me. You'll get the same results trying to use a thunder tome on a Freege!"

Arthur pulled out his wind tome, and Blume burst out laughing. "Pathetic! You are using measly, beginner level tomes to fight me! I have Mjolnir, boy! A holy weapon! I was actually worried there for a moment, but now I see that I have nothing to fear from you boy!" and with that, Blume decided to do the only logical thing. He began monologuing.

(What? You thought he was just going to blast Arthur? He's a villain, he's not that smart or proactive!)

Arthur let Blume drone on for a bit as he defended his actions, saying that despite what his wife had done, he'd still taken care of Teeny and acknowledged her publicly as a member of the family. Then he began to make offers to Arthur, trying to goad him into switching sides. Finally, Arthur had enough. In the middle of Blume's speech, he interrupted him. "Have a good look at my face."


"Have a good look at my face." Arthur said, motioning at it with his hand. "Is there interest on it?"

"Come again?" asked a baffled Blume.

"Does it look, like I give a damn about what you have to say?" after a moment, Blume shook his head. "No. I don't care. I don't. Give. A. Rat's. ASS. about what you could possibly have to offer me. I just have two things that I want you to do. The first is... shut up. Nobody here wants to listen to you. You and your lust for power have ruined countless lives, and you never once listened to the pleas of the people you ruled. So now that we have the advantage, tell me, why the hell should anyone have to listen to you any more? You are a tyrant who will never make a promise you intend to keep unless it is to kill and conquer, and I'd have to be an idiot to take you up on your offer. Which leads to the other thing that I want to do. Die. Shut up, and die." and with that, Arthur launched another Elfire. While it didn't kill or seriously hurt Blume, it did manage to launch him this time. His trick for avoiding harm from fire attacks was less effective if he was unprepared.

"Obviously you deserve to." Arthur said as he walked towards Blume. "I gave you a full warning before I acted, in which time you could have attacked me first and had the advantage. Or prepared for my attack and blunted it. That proves it then. You really are to stupid to live." and with that, the fight began in earnest.

Blume launched a powerful thunder spell Arthur's way, and Arthur rolled under the table in order to dodge it, and launched another Elfire at Blume. Blume stuck out his hand and the core of the fireball hit it, but didn't burn it, only pushing Blume back slightly. Arthur got up, launched another Elfire, and was grazed by a blast of magic from Mjolnir. He grunted and his right hand swept across the table, knocking over a pitcher and some plates. Getting an idea, he began to use his wind tome with his left hand to launch dishes at Blume as he moved down the table's length. Blume used smaller blasts of thunder magic to destroy the flying objects and then Arthur launched an Elfire at him yet again from his right hand. Blume put out his hand to block it, but this time, he yanked it back in pain. He looked down at the appendage to find a half melted carving knife lodged in it.

Arthur used this opportunity to launch the entire table at Blume, who retaliated by using Mjolnir to blast the table in two. However, the tablecloth got on his face, and as he frantically tried to get it off, Arthur fired another blast of wind under one half of the table to keep it in the air, and then fired again to launch it straight at Blume. Blume pulled off the cloth just in time to see the table about to collide with his body. He had no time to move, and the still heavy table half pinned him to the ground. Blume managed to launch one last spell from Mjolnir and grinned when he heard Arthur cry out in pain. He moved his head as best as he could to see his fallen foe... except he wasn't fallen. Arthur was still on his feet, albeit critically injured. He was preparing another Elfire, except this time, things were... different. Arthur's eyes were full of wrath and the flames were turning blue instead of red.

Realizing that trying to prolong the fight or escape through other means would only get him killed, Blume activated the single use warp ring Manfroy had given in order to make his escape. Just in time, as Arthur obliterated the spot Blume had been in immediately after he disappeared. Of course, it was then that Arthur's backup arrived, with Seliph shouting "King Blume! You-!" then he stopped short when he saw the devastation and Arthur. "Is he...?"

"He's escaped. For the last time I assure you." Arthur said. Then he fell to one knee and started hacking up blood.

"You aren't going to follow him now if that's what you were planning." said Seliph as Julia and Fee helped Arthur to his feet.

"Not right away, anyways. I know I'm in no condition to keep fighting. Give me a couple of days of rest, and then Blume is history."

Seliph nodded. "Yes, we'll get him soon enough. First, however, I think that it is about time that I went and met my cousin."

Chapter Text

Leaving a small company of soldiers in charge of the freshly conquered Alster, Seliph took the rest of his army to Leonster to meet with the army of his cousin. When the two forces met outside the castle, Leif stepped forward to greet him, speaking formally.

"Sir Seliph, I am Leif, son of King Quan of Leonster. I am thankful for your aid, and it is an honor to make your acquaintance, at last." he said, in a rather stiff manner.

Seliph was at first surprised by the formal tone Leif was adopting, having expected to be greeted in a more straightforwardly friendly fashion. He decided to just go with it. So he attempted to speak formally as well.

"Prince Leif, we meet at last. I'm so glad you haven't come to any serious harm." responded Seliph.

Leif straightened up "Yes, by some divine miracle or providence, I have not been seriously harmed. I honestly don't comprehend how, if I am being honest. Providence has not been on my side thus far..."

"I know about your parents, but what else has happened since then?" asked Seliph.

Leif elaborated "Shortly after their deaths, an official of Manster betrayed our alliance with them, and aided the Imperial army in seizing my home, this very castle in which we stand. It is very fortunate that Finn, the most trusted knight in my father's service, has managed to keep me safe for all of these years. But, making a living for ourselves has not been easy. Lachesis left us some years ago in order to retrieve her son Delmund... and we never saw her again. Apparently, she never reached you. That was just one stoke of bad luck out of many. Eventually we managed to fight back and make some progress in taking this land back. We have not had your level of success, however."

Leif sighed and looked at the floor "Best example? This place. We took this place about six months ago, and I grew bold and attempted to follow up on our victory by storming Alster. A foolhardy mistake on my part. I lost half of my army and one of my advisors in that attack." Leif said sadly. "We've been under siege here ever since."

"I heard from Lewyn." Seliph told him. "I took up arms a few months after you did, and I've heard all about Blume's bloody reign. One even worse than the one that I grew up under, even though by Imperial logic, your land is less deserving. My only regret is that we did not rise to the task sooner. We could've saved you a great tragedy."

Leif shook his head. "No sir, Do not put any of the blame upon yourself. I take full responsibility for the disaster, yet at the same time, I fully intend to live up to my father's legacy. With all due respect, I am formally asking you to consider making what little forces I have left a part of your liberation effort. We will assist you in not only liberating our homeland, but in returning Grannvale to it's former glory." he said, saluting him by putting an arm over his chest.

"I thought you would. That is why I came in person to see to it that that the merging of our forces happens as smoothly as possible." Realizing that his troops were getting restless standing in the heat while the two just talked, he added "Now, how about we finish formal introductions and go inside and allow for our troops to intermingle? We can continue discussing the finer points of future plans inside with our advisors by our sides." so Leif led them into the castle, and the two armies began to greet each other.

"Hey Lester!" a voice called out.

"Delmund. I see you've made it here safely. Have you gotten to meet your sister and the troops?" Lester asked.

"My sister, the prince, and my step-father, yes. The rest of the troops? No, I haven't had the time. Though from what I've heard, some of them have GREAT names. Want to play our little game?" he asked cheerily.

"Sure! That'll be fun!" responded Lester enthusiastically.

"Oh no you two! You aren't going to start doing this again!" declared Lana, butting into the conversation. "Why can't the two of you simply be polite to the people you meet? It's just rude to pick apart people's names for no good reason. I'm sure none of these people have names that are actually worth making fun of. Allow me to demonstrate." She then turned to a nearby knight and said "Hello there, sir. My name is Lana, I'm a healer with Seliph's army. May I have the pleasure of learning your name?"

"A pleasure to meet you, Lana." the young knight said, smiling. "My name is Carrion."

"Oh no." Lana said, her smile dropping faster than a stone thrown into a pond.

"Is there... something wrong ma'm?" Carrion asked as Delmund and Lester began to snicker in the background.

"I'm sorry... but those two boys behind me? My brother and Nanna's brother? They are the most immature members of our army. And... well, you see, they have this little game where they try to see who can make a better joke out of a random person's name. I tried to stop them. I wanted to demonstrate proper courtesy to you, and prove that not all names are worth making fun of... I'm sorry, Carrion, but I'm afraid your name is very easy to make fun of. So... I'm sorry, but as soon as I leave they'll start heckling you over it. Just so you know, my brother will apologize and mean it if you look like you are hurt or very offended by their remarks, but Delmund won't care and will keep it up. I apologize in advance."

"...I see. Well, thank you for the warning Lana. I'll try to not let it bother me to much. I suggest you go and meet and warn the other members of our army. It was nice meeting you." Carrion said. Thus, Lana wished him good luck, left, and the boys began their onslaught.

"Tell me Carrion, do you constantly have birds circling around you?" asked Lester

"Do dogs seem to LOVE you?" asked Delmund.

"Do people constantly tell you that you smell like death?" asked Lester

"Your parents really didn't want to have you, did they?" Delmund asked.

Lester stopped short "Wait, WHAT?"

"I mean, Carrion? Seriously? They might as well have named you Kilmi."

Lester looked stopped smiling and started looking horrified. "umm... Delmund?"

"or Dedgye."

"Delmund, I think that's enough."

"Or Sassin Natemi"

"Ok Delmund, now you're just being obnoxious."

"Your parents didn't really have high hopes for your future, did they?" continued Delmund, ignoring Lester.

"OK. Enough is enough." said Lester as he hit Delmund upside the head and covered his mouth. "Now I remember the reason why I stopped doing this with you. I realized that you weren't funny, just a colossal asshole." said Lester under his breath. Looking at Carrion he said "I'm truly sorry about that, sir. My companion went to far there. I'm sorry if we caused you any emotional trauma. I'll take my friend and leave you alone now." and he dragged a thrashing Delmund away, leaving Carrion alone.

"And here I was thinking Nanna's brother would be the blue-haired one, but I guess that one's Lana's." he thought out-loud.

Salem was sitting in the corner, away from the others. He was attempting to take a nap. Next to him was Sara. Suddenly, a familiar voice rang out. "Well, I'm glad to see that I was successful in ensuring your safety."

Salem' eyes popped open and he leapt out of his chair. It clattered to the floor. "Cumha? You're still alive?!"

"I'm still alive. Thanks to the Liberation army. Good to see that you've lasted this long as well. Though I'm surprised to see you in an army. I was kind of expecting you to find someplace secluded to spend the rest of your days."

"What can I say? Prince Leif is a generous man. They had me captured, but they released me as soon as somebody asked that I not be harmed. He even granted me amnesty, knowing full well what I was... by the way amnesty is-"

"I know, they granted it to me too. Why do you think that I'm here?"

"So... how did you wind up with the liberation army?" Salem asked.

"I was locked up in the Yied Shrine, waiting for the day when Archbishop Manfroy would come to finish me off, when they came, stormed the place, and took control."

"Yied has fallen?!" Salem cried out loudly and in shock. Sara's eyes widened as well. "Is it still occupied? It better be well guarded, or else-"

"No need to worry about that, old friend. Remember, our people are no longer confined there, so it is not as important to our leaders as it used to be. Besides, even if they took it back, it's not that hard to seize anymore. One of the Liberation army's mages was messing with a tome he found in Skaro's workshop, and he had an accident which made the entire Darna side of the cliff collapse. Now you can take an entire army up a large, gently sloping ramp straight up to the front of the shrine."

Salem's eyes nearly popped out of his head upon hearing this.

"Grandpa is not going to be happy. Someone's going to die again." said Sara.

"Well, it seems that we will be out of here and seeing action outside of Leonster at long last, dear. This long battle that we've been fighting ever since father died... its finally behind us. We can move onward now." said Selfina, snuggling up to her husband, Glade.

"You are half right there, Selfina. I will be seeing action. You, however, shall remain here." Glade told her

"What? You're not leaving me here! I want to be with you!" she cried.

"Absolutely not. I can't risk you getting in harm's way." Glade said firmly.

"That was never a problem before."

"You're right. It wasn't a problem before. I know perfectly well that you can handle a bow and use it to defend yourself. I never considered saying anything in the past because of that and because your father didn't seem to mind you fighting alongside us."

"So now that my father is gone you want to push me away when you should be keeping me closer." said Selfina, pouting.

Glade sighed and shook his head. "Selfina, you aren't thinking or speaking rationally. You know that we have been closer these past six months than we ever have been before. Look, I just want to make sure you are safe in case anything goes wrong. Any of our leaders will agree with me that it is best that you remain."

Selfina was about to argue back, when a voice said "Listen to your husband, Selfina, he knows best."

"I would expect YOU to be against me, Finn." she said, glaring his way, expecting to see just him. Finn was not alone. Oifey, August, Lewyn, Shanan, Seliph and Leif were standing with him. They had been discussing tactics and plans for the campaign when they heard the escalating argument and decided to stop their conversation and help settle it quickly.

Leif spoke next. "Selfina, Finn has nothing against you, you're upset and over-exaggerating, which is understandable, but I'm not letting you come for now. I don't need my advisors to help me make that decision."

"Don't try to convince me either." said Seliph "Or any of the rest of us for that matter. Our decision is unanimous. It's blatantly obvious that you'd be a liability."

"Why?! Why can't I come with you?" cried Selfina, on the verge of tears.

Silently, they simultaneously raised their hands and pointed, and then Selfina knew that she wasn't going to have her way. Why? They were all pointing at her obviously swollen belly. She was six months pregnant.

August spoke next. "Self-reflection on your behavior alone should tell you why we don't want to bring you with us for now. You normally aren't this emotional. The baby is messing with your body and your mind. Even if you can adequately protect yourself with a bow, pregnancy will seriously dampen your ability to use it. It will also slow you down in times when we need to move fast, and the havoc it is playing on your emotions as well as any contractions in the middle of battle could cause your husband a distraction that may very well end his life. Or yours. So please, stop protesting, our decision is final, and we are not being unfair."

"My aunt didn't put up any resistance when asked to stay away from the battlefield when she got to the phase you are at, and she was a born fighter." included Shanan "Sure, she kept fighting and training for the first few months after discovering that there were children inside of her, but once it began to show and weigh her down, she willingly put aside her sword until they were born."

Glade spoke to her one last time, very softly. "Please, my dear, don't fight us anymore. It should only be another three months until the baby is born. I can guarantee that the war won't be over by then. Once you've recovered and we settle on someone who can watch over it, you may follow me to the ends of the earth."

With that, Selfina relented and agreed to stay in Leonstar with her most loyal guards. (The ones that those who've played Thracia 776 have never used beyond their introductory level)

Ares and Roddleven weren't big on socializing, so they decided that, while the others mingled, they'd take the opportunity to go to town and get their weapons re-forged so they were in top condition. This would also mean that they wouldn't have to wait in line when everyone else was going to do the same. While they waited, they wound up wandering by a jewelry vendor and began to examine their wares. Roddleven looked at everything and eventually decided on a jeweled pin. Ares, however, was more interested in the rings. However, he wound up not buying anything. After collecting their weapons, they made their way back. On their way back to the castle, Roddleven began a conversation with the knight, figuring he might as well.

"Thinking about asking a certain someone a certain something?" he asked.

Ares looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "It has been on my mind, yes. I promised Leen that she wouldn't have to be alone anymore. Making that promise should prove to her that I mean it. It would probably make her happier than she has ever been." he admitted

"Then why don't you do it? You had the perfect opportunity to prepare for that, but you didn't." pontificated Roddleven.

Ares looked Roddleven in the eyes "I have three reasons why not. First of all, I don't know her size, and I doubt we'll be in Leonster for long, so I wouldn't be able to return it if it didn't fit. Second of all, we are at war, and people die all the time in war. It's pure chaos... I think she's had enough of a chaotic life as it is, and she would want some assurance of stability. Third and foremost... how could I give her a stable life if I'm not exactly stable myself." Roddleven did a double take. Ares could tell he was thinking "Wait, is he really telling me this?"

Ares sighed and elaborated "I've been raised my whole life to hate Sigurd and anyone related to him... only to be told now that what I've believed to be the truth for my entire life is actually a lie. I have literally killed any chance of going back to my old life, yet I still haven't decided on whether or not I actually believe the contradictory tale or not. I'll be honest, I can get past the first two things that I mentioned, one with a few questions, the other with a long talk... but as long as that last part remains an issue, I cannot act. I have to have all my thoughts in order in order to make such a pivotal decision, and until that changes and I am all there... anyways, I really think that this conversation should be reversed." said Ares suddenly

Roddleven stopped short and did a double take. "I... I don't know what you are talking about."

"I haven't been with you people long, but I've already noticed, you seem to spend a lot of time around that healer girl." said Ares.

"Mercy? Well, yea, we're friends."

"Close friends? Close enough that you'd want to bestow that jewel unto her?" Ares asked suspiciously.

"We both lost our only living relative at about the same time. We've been helping each other recover."

"So I heard... from my room in Melgen."

Roddleven stood silently for a couple of moments. "...What...What are you trying to imply?"

"Exactly what you think I am." said Ares cooly, "I asked for a room far from where everyone else was." then Ares proceeded to tell Roddleven where he had stayed at Melgen, and then studied Roddleven's face carefully.

"...I'm not going to confirm or deny anything." Roddleven said at last, after a prolonged hesitation.

"Which confirms everything." said Ares, suddenly walking faster. "You're going to have to make your final decision soon, so you might as well man up to it."

"What makes you say that?"

Ares looked back. "The way she walks." he said, and he ducked into the castle entrance, disappearing inside.

Roddleven stopped by the entrance, wondering about whatever Ares could mean. Then he was greeted by none other than Mercy herself.

"Roddleven. I'm glad you're back. There's... something I need to talk to you about..."

Chapter Text

"...That's your best plan for taking down Blume? Seriously? And here I was going around thinking that you were the voice of reason here despite your tendency to be an asshole!" declared Arthur incredulously.

"What's wrong with it?" asked Delmund "I figured that since Blume is obviously an incompetent idiot, that it could totally work!"

"I know that it is difficult to distinguish, but there is a difference between idiocy and overconfidence." said Johan. "Granted, it's a small difference in practice, but it's a difference nonetheless. My father may have been an incompetent ignoramus, but he had his clever moments, and he never would have fallen for that trick, even if he was utterly drunk! I always saw Blume as the more intelligent ruler, so even trying that trick on him would be a death sentence."

"Sorry Delmund, but you aren't the epitome of brilliance that you think you are." said Arthur, shaking his head.

Delmund walked away in a huff while Johan stared at Arthur. "Epitome?" he asked.

Arthur looked back at Johan. "Yea, it's a rather fancy term that means-"

"I know what it means. I'm not asking why you said it, I'm questioning your pronunciation."

"What's wrong with it?" asked Arthur.

"You pronounced the word like it's spelled: Ep-it-tome." explained Johan


"It's not pronounced like that, Arthur. It's pronounced Eh-pit-oh-me. You should really learn how these words are pronounced before you use them in public, Arthur. This actually isn't the first time I've heard you make a mistake like that publicly."

"Well, how do you know that your pronunciation is the correct one?" protested Arthur.

"Because I was raised in a prominent noble household, and I ASKED to be taught how to properly use big words like that when I was growing up. I thought it would help me stand out as the middle child."

"Well, I'm sorry I don't have the same CLASSY upbringing that you had! I learned those words by reading them. The books didn't exactly spell out how they were pronounced, so I've had to infer things using my own judgment. So of course I don't know the proper pronunciations! Ugh, I'm going to find someone else to talk to!" said Arthur, storming off.

"You don't have to get all offended! I was just saying... and he's gone." said Johan sighing. Then he saw someone else passing by and called out to him. "Hey Roddleven!" but he hesitated when he saw the look on Roddleven's face. "Is... something wrong?" he asked.

"Nothing I feel like talking about. I... have a lot on my mind. So if you don't mind... I... I'm going to find myself a room and lie down for a bit." said Roddleven, sounding a bit shaken and looking a bit pale.

Arthur saw Cumha in the midst of a conversation with Salem, Sara, and Leif (the leaders had finished their planning session for now), so he decided to join them, as he actually had a vested interest in Cumha's past. In the middle of the conversation, Leif noticed something that both former dark mages were wearing. "Is that... medallion I see you both wearing standard for dark priests?" he asked.

The two stopped talking and pulled said medallions out and held them in their hands. "No, these are something a bit more... unique." said Salem.

"Don't tell me that they're friendship... trinkets. Cause those look expensive and I don't wanna know how you would've afforded those in the conditions that you say that you grew up in." said Arthur.

Both dark mages got a small laugh out of that. "If only." said Salem.

"We got these as a token from Firinne for going through his trial." said Cumha

"Firinne... I believe you said that name when we met you. Didn't you say that he was the reason that you left the Loptyr sect?" asked Arthur.

"Yes, yes he is." said Cumha

"Well... I think that a more accurate way to put it is that he was the one who opened our eyes to what the sect had become and thus gave us a reason to leave. Also, I probably wouldn't refer to Firinne as a 'he' so much as an 'it'. I think it's safe to say that he's definitely not human."

"Safe to say? He's blatantly some kind of spirit entity. Hell, I've read that it's rumored that he's an offshoot of the lord of the underworld." declared Cumha "His M.O is to set up a special trial in a secluded place and make people face... themselves during the trial. Those who come out with a renewed resolve get new power and sometimes unique weapons."

"After our faith in the sect fell apart during his trial, he gave these to us and told us to give them to the next person 'who needed to see' Why anyone would 'need to see' that... thing, is beyond me." said Salem, shuddering.

"C'mon, he wasn't that scary."

Salem gave him a bewildered look "Are you sure that you're remembering this right?"

"Can I have a look at them?" asked Arthur

The two dark mages looked at one another. "I don't see the harm as long as we don't actually GIVE them to him." said Cumha.

"You can both have a look at them." said Salem reluctantly. So they held out the medallions, and the boys took a hold of them and examined them.

"I feel... a strange magical aura around them." declared Arthur as he examined them

"Something does feel off." agreed Leif

Suddenly, Arthur's medallion began to glow, and a sound like rushing wind broke overwhelmed the noise of the chatter in the large gathering hall and darkness began to gather and made the room much dimmer. The two medallions leapt out of their hands and landed in the center of the room. They rose into the air and dust swirled around them, and dust coalesced around them, turning the medallions into eyes. The dust further coalesced until it took a shape that looked vaguely like a person completely covered in weird armor. The figure floated through the air and around the room.

The figure had no identifiable facial features other than a pair of glowing blue, pupil-less eyes. It looked less like a face and more like a covered samurai helm. It's body texture and color didn't look quite natural, it roughly resembled a blackened, cancerous lung, and seemed to be about six and a half feet tall. It spoke in a voice that sounded human, but distorted.

"Ah, called upon again, am I? And so soon after the last time. Who- ah! The liberation army. Now this should be interesting." said the figure.

"Who... who are you?!" cried out Teeny, already quite alarmed by his mere presence.

"And what's with the getup and the lights? I was having a nice conversation, and you ruined it. Are you trying to scare us? 'Cause it's not working." said Linda, completely ignoring all the blatantly terrified people around her, including her own cousin.

"Oh, but you are, and no amount of false bravado can convince me otherwise. And those of you who aren't scared... well, you should be. I... am Firinne, the master of conflict, and I could destroy you both in a matter of seconds if I-"

"Not going to happen!" cried Arthur and Amid, who immediately launched fireballs at Firinne. They were joined by Osain, who threw Pugi. They dispersed parts of his smokey body temporarily, but they clearly did not real damage.

"Well, that was a good use of time and effort." said Firinne as his body regenerated from the damage. He then proceeded to seize Pugi and make it levitate. He then hurled it back at Osain. It grazed his cheek, and buried itself in the stone wall behind him with a resounding thud. "If you're going to overreact like this at every little thing, then you don't deserve to win this war."

"What are you?" asked Tanya as she helped Osain back to his feet.

"I am Einherjar. An ancient experiment. The perfect warrior. I don't tire or feel emotionally weighed down. I do not bleed and I cannot die. My powers are great and varied. I can see into a man's very soul with a glance and know everything they are, and everything that they will be... if they live past meeting me." said Firinne

Everyone was made uneasy by this proclamation... with the sole exception of Delmund, who decided to question the being before them. "So... are you going to help us, or are you here to try and kill us all?" he asked in a deadpan tone.

"Neither. I don't fight anymore."

"And why is that, oh great and mighty warrior?"

"Because I don't need to! A war is far to easy to win. Should I actively join any side of a conflict, well then it wouldn't be long before that war was over. It makes war cheap and uninteresting. No, now I have found a new way to participate in war without directly interfering, and in a way I found a lot less boring."

"And what would that be?" asked Delmund.

"Like I said, I can see into the hearts of men. I see their internal conflicts, so I help them to resolve them. Those that encounter me in the right conditions shall go through specially designed trials to help them face themselves. Those who succeed in strengthening their resolve are granted a new power along with personal stability, as well as immunity to death in upcoming battles for a set period of time. Do not interrupt me Delmund. I know what you are going to ask. I do not make dark copies of yourself for you to fight. I used to do that but it got old quickly. Anyways, since no one is prepared for it, I will not make anyone go through my trial now. Keep those medallions and ask those former dark priests the conditions for meeting me, and I will help you find a resolution to your conflict."

This proclamation helped to settle everyone's nerves... until Delmund asked "So... you're a benevolent spirit then?"

At this, Firinne started cackling. "Benevolent? Many years ago a young man came to me and passed my trial in record time. Thus I gave him power and a mind for planning beyond what I have ever granted before or since. THAT young man is now the archbishop of the church of Loptyr and is directly responsible for the suffering of untold thousands across Jugdral, and I knew what he would do with my gifts beforehand! NO! I am NOT BENEVOLENT!" he cried, sounding like he was spitting out the last word, and getting right up in front of Delmund's face. "But neither am I malevolent. Your morals are not mine."

"So what are your morals? Those of a bored child?" asked Lester, bow in hand.

"Ha! that's rich coming from the one who believes that behaving like a CHILDISH PRANKSTER, will bring home daddy."

"What?!" said Lester as his aim and expression wavered, clearly perturbed.

"Do you remember what your father told you after he caught you trying to revenge yourself on that rude priest? You do, don't you?"

Lester looked like he had been shot through the heart. "What? How'd you? I... I'd forgotten..." he stammered, and he dropped his bow and sank to the ground, head in his hand hands.

Firinne, instead of following up on this, looked around the room and declared "Here I see many soldiers. Ordinary... and not so ordinary men and women willing to follow these so called heroes because you see them as chosen ones of the gods, or great, unflawed liberators. Do you want to know what I see?" he asked as he began to float around the room. One by one he stopped over each of the Liberation Army leaders and made a statement about each, looking each straight in the face as he did so.

(Note: in this segment he doesn't actually say any of the characters names, and he did not necessarily list them in this order. I put them in semi-random order and set this scene up in this fashion for simplicity sake)

"Oifey: the tactician turned warrior; he worked so hard, and did everything he could, yet he is still plagued by guilt over being unable to save the man who viewed as a father. He tried to raise his lord's son as best as he could, yet he feels that he failed in some regards, as he was never fully raised himself.

Shanan: the uncrowned king; who despite being a hero to his people, cannot step out of the shadow of his aunt."

Seliph: the leader of this crusade and the true heir to Grannvale; He has so much weighing on his shoulders that he thinks that he cannot love, and is unsure of whether or not he is going down the same path of destruction as his father.

Patty: the sweet thief who wants advantage; yet is also afraid that others will take it of her.

Finn: the aging veteran; so exhausted by life, so scared of failing the long dead lord whom he dedicated his life to.

Teeny: the fragile Freege; You fight with thunder and lightning, yet you fear it. You want to hide and wither away in the shadows, yet your life shall take you on the opposite path.

Ares: the lost heir of the lion of Nordion; you act as if you have your life together, yet you fully realize that you are the closest to falling apart. You are just waiting for a page to turn in your life story that will grant you some stability. Worry not, you shall have the answers to your burning questions very soon.

Leen: the lonely dancer; so hurt, so scared of life. Looking for a firm foundation to cling to. You shall have that foundation soon made for you soon enough.

Leif: the warrior prince; you have done so much with your life, yet of yourself, you think so little. This you must overcome.

Johan: the regretful poet; you tore yourself away from the stability of your old life for the sake of one you knew did not particularly care for you, and you are still unsure of whether your actions are correct. You shall get your answer soon enough.

Julia: the lost girl; everyone around you sees you as the epitome of innocence, yet your heart latched on to the first man you saw that wasn't seen as a father figure. There is more to you than you think, you are not as innocent as you think you are. The heart is a wicked, tricky thing, yours shall be disappointed and left yearning more than once in the near future until it will lead you down a road in life you don't currently expect.

Nanna: the veteran's progeny; acting so proper, so much like a sweet proper lady, yet I know the truth. You are kind, but your heart lusts and is jealous for one man, with whom you desire a prolific family.

Lana: the heartfelt healer; like her mother, she is set upon by many men, but she does not know it for her eyes only see one man. Yet, at the same time she is willing to sacrifice him for the sake of a friend. How noble.

Ulster: the swordsman who tries to hard to live up to the standard; tell me, why do you bother when you know you will never live up to the rest of your kin? You are not on their level.

Larcei: the amazon; you try to hide and brush off your beauty, yet don't bother to hide or brush off your gender. You are full of bloodlust, yet is it truly that, or is it really untempered fury and bitterness channeled through the lens of years of loneliness and abandonment issues. Tell me what evidence do you have that your mother was so great and your father so awful? You must let those close to you help you to temper your temper soon, or else a terrible price shall be paid.

Arthur: the trio mage; so cold, yet so passionate. Tell me, what future do you see for yourself after revenge? Perhaps you should look close by.

Fee: the fledgeling princess; So bitter, yet so cheerful. You search for your loved ones and for them to return it to you, yet it is not necessary. Your heart's targets will come to you.

Delmund: and finally, the bitter bastard; you lost your sense of compassion and drive to change long ago when you realized your place in the world. It is something you must recover."

Turning back to the rest of the army, Firinne said "These are the men and women you follow. With the success they have had so far, they have granted themselves the illusion of invincibility." turning back to them he said "that illusion shall be shattered soon enough, for one among you, will perish shortly."

For several moments, the room was left in utter silence. Then Delmund said "You're just trying to scare us before making a dramatic exit, aren't you? People die in war all the time, and if someone here dies, it will probably be from something stupid rather than dramatic, for example, Larcei snapping and throwing me from the top of a castle watchtower. I wouldn't put that past her."

"No, this is not wish fulfillment. The one who perishes will be someone that the others will actually miss. BOTH times. But don't worry, as the solution to your grief will come to you shortly after the second death. One in this room already knows what I speak of. Warriors of light, you now know what you must face. Either conquer it yourselves or come to me for the final solution. Those who have taken my trial shall tell you how. Until then, farewell."

and with that, Firinne made his dramatic exit, and left everyone else in a furious debate, full of questions.

Chapter Text

It had been an half an hour since Firinne had made his appearance. Everyone had gotten over their initial shock and gone their separate ways in order to mull over the morbid things that had been declared suddenly in the middle of what was supposed to be a grand event. Laylea was now wandering the halls, searching for Lester. She had noticed that he looked particularly distraught when Firinne had spoken to him, and she decided that she would try to comfort him. After all, he had helped her get over her despair, so why couldn't she at least attempt to return the favor? She found him at the same time that Lana did, though Lana was rather surprised by the location that they found him in. He was sitting on a stool in the corner of the cellar. Lester had never been a drinker, yet he had a large, half-empty bottle in hand.

The two girls grabbed stools and sat next to him. At first, they sat in silence, and then after a minute, Lana asked "Ok, so...what was that all about? I mean, you've got a bottle in your hand, your'e out of sight, and you're quiet, three things that don't match your M.O. at all. So... you might as well tell us what's going on. You're not going to feel better if you don't, and you know that you have to tell SOMEbody."

Lester turned to stare at her and remarked "For a 'nun', you have all the subtlety of a philanderer in a bar. Besides, it's apple cider. Apparently the guy who makes it uses old wine bottles to contain it. I've only taken one gulp of it anyways, someone else was at it before me. You can try some if you don't believe me." he said, giving the bottle to his slightly red sister.

"We just want to help you, Lester. You helped me when I was behaving worse than this, so I think that it's only right that I should be here now. Please, tell us what the problem is. Neither of us want to see you wallowing." said Laylea softly.

"He... he made me reevaluate my entire life. Well, more like the way I behave in it... well... I can't think of a proper way to describe it." Lester said, head hung in shame

"Could you elaborate? Maybe it will help." said Laylea.

Lester sighed and then said "I don't know if you've noticed, but admittedly... I behave rather childishly most of the time. I'm a practical joker. I pull pranks for fun all the time. I have been doing it since I was a child. I simply thought that it was just a part of my nature... Then Firinne came along and reminded me that I wasn't doing it for fun. At least, that wasn't the main reason that I started doing it all the time..."

"Wait a minute..." said Lana, remembering what Firinne had said and beginning to realize where this was heading.

"When I was little, I was generally very well behaved. A little temperamental, maybe, but what child isn't? That came into play one day when a wandering priest visited our home. It quickly became apparent that he didn't like kids." then Lester hesitated for a moment "Well... it's obvious now, but back then I thought that he was just mean and I was going to get him for that. So I stole a pie mom had baked, and I was going to throw it at him as a sort of prank... when dad caught me. After lecturing me, he told me never to try anything like that again. Of course, being a little kid, I began unsubtly fishing for loopholes and giving a bunch of 'what if's. Dad cut me off by saying that no matter what I did to hide it, and no matter what he was doing or where he was, he would find out about it if I pulled a stunt like that again, and make sure that I was properly punished because of it. I believed him and didn't try anything like that again while he was still around."

At this, Lester smirked and had a small bout of laughter before continuing. "Of course now I know that the reason that he would find out is because little kids are TERRIBLE at lying and covering their tracks. It's obvious now, but back then, I genuinely thought he was omniscient." Lester said chuckling again before he frowned "Which leads us to what this is all about. We were all upset when he disappeared. Mom, me, Lana, the new baby, everyone! So remembering dad's warning, I decided to deliberately disobey dad and I began to steal pies and throw them at people. I really should have known better, but I thought that it would bring him home."

He shook his head, eyes wet with tears, "I thought, it would be ok if he just came back just to punish me, 'daddy would be home and mommy won't have to be sad anymore'. It would be worth it. So I kept acting out and pulling all sorts of pranks, hoping that it would attract dad's attention. After a while, I forgot that that was my reason for pranking in the first place, and went on to just prank for the sake of pranking. It became a shaping factor of my life that nobody knew about. And now... and now I've had the truth thrown back in my face in front of everyone I know. You heard what he said. That behind the arrows and the smug grin and mischievous nature, I'm just a little boy desperately calling for his daddy." He paused to take a gulp of cider before concluding "I'd laugh about it if it weren't so pathetic... what the hell, I'll laugh anyways." Then a he began to laugh, a rueful, mirthless laugh that echoed through the room as he covered his face and tears streamed down his cheeks.

"I... I don't know what to tell you Lester. I don't have any advice, I don't have any special healing words to make you better. All I can do is ask you the same thing that you asked me. To let me assist in repairing you emotionally, to the best of my abilities." said Laylea, stroking his shoulder.

"Thank you Laylea. Just you being here to listen is enough. I don't think that I could have said all of that to just my perfect sister over here." he said, pointing at Lana.

That triggered something in Lana, who had been quiet until now. She suddenly sat bolt upright and said "Perfect? You think I'm 'perfect'?"

"Well yea, everyone thinks so, even Firinne. Didn't you notice that Firinne had nothing bad to say about you? Just that you are a selfless individual who doesn't notice her suitors. He couldn't point out any real problems, he just elaborated on your perfection."

"That's not what he said! He said I was to self-sacrificing you dunderhead!" cried Lana, voice suddenly shrill.

"What?!" said Lester, falling off his stool, completely taken aback by his normally calm sister's outburst.

"Obviously you don't remember, but when we were little, I would actually help you with all of your little pranks. Does that sound like something that a perfect person would do?"

"...I do remember that. I always explained that via the fact that you were my little sister and you looked up to me. I figured that you stopped helping me because you grew up and I didn't, and you wanted to be like mom."

"That's... not exactly it Lester." Lana said shaking her head. "To be perfectly honest... I actually enjoyed helping you pull off your pranks. I actually probably would still be helping you with them to this day if it weren't for..." she stopped for a moment, then sighed "I stopped helping you, because one day, after I helped you pull off a particularly big prank, I don't quite remember what it was, I saw mom standing in the wreckage, in the middle of the disaster we caused, and she broke down crying. She began asking out loud where she was going wrong raising us and was wondering if things would have been different if dad was still around." now Lana began to cry, and Lester looked away.

Lana paused for a moment to wipe away her tears. "after witnessing that, I never helped you again. I just... I just couldn't do that to mom anymore. So, I put all of my efforts into being the best daughter that I could possibly be, so that whenever you showed mom where her parenting went wrong, I could show her where it went right. So that when her son misbehaved, she'd have her little girl cheer her up, and make her think it was... I don't know, just a guy thing, so she wasn't to blame. In hindsight, maybe I should've told you. I guess that's further proof that I'm not perfect, I was perfectly willing to let you look bad and let myself be the angel." she said, looking at her hand.

Lester couldn't speak, he was completely dumbfounded by what he was hearing, and Lana wasn't even done dropping her bombshells yet.

"I... I never even wanted to become a nun. In all honesty, I wanted to be either a cavalier or a mage. We probably could've trained together. But I was around mom all the time and saw how seeing you boys (and Larcei) learn about warfare affected her, and I just couldn't do that to her. If I were to train to become a cavalier or the like, mom would be all alone. I had to push aside myself and act in a fashion that I honestly hated. I still hate it! You think I'm so sweet and selfless? It's only because I have to be! A nun can't consider her own needs first, can she? NO! the gods forbid such selfishness! A nun must ALWAYS put others first! As for all of those would-be-suitors? What Firinne said is a load of bull. OF COURSE IV'E NOTICED THEM! I'm 17 dammit! I've technically been of marrying age for a few years! I'm not some naive little girl that just hit her growth spurt! I actually LOVE the attention! I can't show it of course. It would be no good for a nun to be seen flirting now would it? I actually trained myself to stop noticing it so that I wouldn't have any distractions. I want a lover, but I don't have one, because I feel that I can't have one."

Lana stopped talking for a moment and began to breath heavily, then she said. "Yet I still notice Seliph... I admit it, I've had a thing for him for... a while. Larcei was always just to violent, so I always saw him as my best friend, and now... I just love being around him and... and that selfish part of me just wants to keep him for myself... but I know that I can't. I should let someone who needs him more have him. Someone like Julia... I've seen the way she looks at him. As for me... I'll just have to stay single, although I hate to disappoint the boys. Especially Ulster. Poor, poor Ulster."

She sighed and shook her head "I know that he's infatuated with me, but can't spit it out. I honestly can't blame him. He's a great swordsman all things considered, but when compared to his sister and Shanan, he's simply mediocre. As a result, he's always had inferiority issues about that. I've known for quite some time, so I've always tried to be sympathetic. As a result, he's always felt rather close to me. Then came that incident about five years ago when he fell into a swollen river. You remember that? I pulled him out and nursed him out of the ensuing fever, and ever since then, he's been completely enamored with me. He thinks that I don't notice him, always watching from around the corner as I work."

Lester made a face at this. Then Lana continued by saying "I think that he's gotten desperate, as I'm pretty sure he's roped Julia into assisting his attempting to woo me. That would explain why she always looks apprehensive around me as she praises him. I haven't said anything to her about it, I think throwing out that accusation would really hurt her. As for Ulster... I'm sorry to say that I can't, and never will love him. Of that I'm completely certain." she said, sadly finishing her statement and looking down. She closed her eyes and covered her ears with her hands "Oh, I don't want to see or hear his reaction if he learns that."

She didn't realize that if she hadn't closed off her senses at that moment, she would have heard his reaction as Ulster ran off in a desperate hurry.

Julia found Ulster in the corner of the dining hall, sobbing heavily. She asked him what was wrong, and he proceeded to tell her everything that he had heard, and then broke down into sobs again. Julia said nothing, she just dragged him closer, letting him bury his face in her chest. Neither of them thought about the awkwardness of the situation. They just sat there for about half an hour, lost in thought.

"Prince Shanan?" a voice asked from behind. Shanan whirled around and was startled to find himself facing... himself, or rather, a man that looked just like him. "I see that I've found you sir, and I just want to say, that I formally apologize." the man said.

"For what?" asked Shanan

"Why do you think, sir?"

"Looking like me isn't a crime." said Shanan.

"But I presume that taking advantage of that fact is?"

"Oh... am I going to run into a young woman somewhere in the Thracian Peninsula claiming to be the mother of my bastard?"

"No. At least... I don't think so." said the man

"That doesn't sound very reassuring. Why are you uncertain?"

"All of the young ladies I come across tend to be busy and a bit disinterested when I meet them, so I have not had any luck consciously, but I'm buddies with a guy named Homer, and he's a heavy drinker. One night I decided to join him in his revels... and I woke up the next morning on the floor missing parts of my clothes with no idea why and what happened. Homer wasn't very helpful in that department."

Shanan winced and said "Well, what made you decide to come up to me and fess up?"

"I saw that... thing single you out in front of everyone and I decided that I should own up and speak to you now, instead of keeping quiet and letting it bite me in the ass later. Honestly? I still can't decide whether I'm genuinely sorry, or if I'm just being pre-emptive to having my entire scam blow up in my face and trying to get on your good side. Either way, I assure you that I won't do it again."

Shanan gave a long drawn out sigh, then said "Ok then, I forgive you. As long as you keep your word about stopping, you have nothing to worry about Mr..." Shanan made a hand motion indicating that he was fishing for a name.

"Shanam. With an M. I'm serious, that's actually the name that my mother gave me." Shanan raised an eyebrow, then shrugged it off, prompting Shanam to say "If I may, sir, but you seem to be rather nonchalant about this whole thing."

"I learned at a young age that acting emotionally can lead to disaster. Therefore, I've made it a point in my life to take on a laid back attitude and take everything in stride. I still take things seriously, but... it helps me cope. Also, since you were man enough to face me directly about it, that reflects better on you, and makes me more willing to let it go. Besides, it provides me with a unique opportunity."

"Opportunity, sir?"

"Tell me Shanam, are you familiar with the concept of body doubles?"

It was starting to get late, and everyone was finding themselves a room and settling down for the night. Everyone that is, except for Nanna. It had taken her longer than it should have for her to get over the bout of angst that Firinne's words had given her, but now that she had recovered, and now she wandered the halls, determined to complete a mission nearly two decades in the making. She found her target as he was about to enter a room. She had to act quickly.

"Excuse me, but are you Ares?" she said, making him half turn.

"Yes ma'm, do you need something?" said Ares politely

"Is it true that you are the son of King Eldigan?" she stammered out

"That is correct. What about it?"

"So it really is you, at very long last." she thought out-loud.

"Excuse me?"

"I'm sorry. Allow me to properly introduce myself. Hello Ares, I am Nanna. Daughter of the lady Lachesis of Nordion."

That got Ares' full attention "What?! You're my cousin?!"

"Indeed. And I am so very glad that I found you. My mother was worried about you for the longest time. The reason I live here, the reason I even exist, is because she came here, looking for you!" Nanna said, articulating her words as carefully as possible.

"I'm sorry that I wasn't here for her to find. When the war broke out in Agustria, my father sent my mother and I to her parent's home in Leonster. Then everything changed when Granvalle attacked. I lost my mother to the flames of war, and I fell into the hands of a mercenary captain named Jabarro. Given the lifestyle of mercenaries, it's unsurprising that your mother never found me."

"My mother would have loved to see you. Sadly, she went missing a few years ago when she went to retrieve my half-brother from Isaac. Thankfully, however, she didn't take this with her." she said, handing Ares a package.

"It's... addressed to me?" said Ares, surprised.

"Yes, you see Ares, I'm not sure what you heard about your father, and Sir Sigurd, but I imagine that it was bad. The truth of the matter is, however, there was never any bad blood between Sir Sigurd and your father. What happened between them merely happened because King Eldigan was the sort of man who put honor before reason, and he served a dishonorable high king. In fact, the two of them never did battle. My mother talked your father out of it, and King Chaagal had him executed when he tried to convince him to end the madness he was causing.

"Are you certain of this?" asked Ares, suddenly very agitated. (he was thinking of another mercenary he met once who claimed to be King Chaagal's bastard)

"Absolutely, and you hold the proof. You see, mother realized that Chagaal would have the truth twisted before it reached you, so she made a collection of her letters of correspondence with your father during Sir Sigurd's occupation of Augustria. She also gathered eyewitness accounts of your father's demise. That collection is what's in that package I gave you. All done so you would know for certain what the truth was."

Now Ares was shaking "I... thank you... Nanna, for giving me this." he said, closing his eyes and steadying himself. Reopening his eyes he said "If there is ever anything you need... well... thank you." he said as he quickly stepped into the room and closed the door, so he could hide the tears that were beginning to well up in his eyes.

Chapter Text

The Liberation Army's sweep across the land had not gone unnoticed by the higher ups in Grannvale. This was especially true in regards to the Loptyr sect, who had lost their ancestral home to them. Thus, Archbishop Manfroy had arranged a meeting among the leaders of the sect. However, it was primarily Veld, the leader of the sect members residing in the northern half of the Thracian peninsula, who held his attention. While Veld displayed confidence that he could take care of things, Manfroy wasn't so certain.

"They've had to easy a time undoing our work thus far. I truly think that your confidence might be misplaced. I will be frank with you Veld. I think that you would benefit in the long run by sending a summons to Skaro and having him come here from his post in central Silesse." stated Manfroy.

This declaration was blatantly distressing to everyone present. One of them even outright mumbled "Um...sir, I'm not sure that's..." then he went silent.

Manfroy turned to glare at him. "Is there a problem, Judah?"

"Well, it's just that Skaro, you see... he's-" stammered Judah.

Judah's companion stopped him with his hand, gave him a significant look, turned his head back to Manfroy and said, "Sir, what bishop is trying to say... what everyone is outright afraid to bring up... It's just that no one is enthusiastic about the prospect of having to work with him because, frankly sir, Skaro is creepy even by our standards, and I swear to Loptyr, he's outright bat-shit insane."

"Language!" snarled Manfroy. "You will not speak like that in my presence, Etrio." he said, waving a finger in the man's face.

"Language? LANGUAGE? That's your big concern? With everything we do and whom we serve, your biggest concern is PROFANITY? What kind of whacked up pri-" and then he remembered who he was talking to. For a second, the expression on his face screamed "SHIT!", but then he composed himself and calmly said, "I'm a dead man, aren't I sir?" as Manfroy walked behind him.

Suddenly, Manfroy's fist darkened, then he proceeded to punch straight through Etrio's chest."Yes. You are." said Manfroy, who opened his hand, turned it around and grabbed Etrio's face. He sent a wave of energy coursing through his body, disintegrating him. "A pity too, I was so looking forward to seeing your future career. But you showed disrespect towards our lord and our ways one to many times. We've had to many traitors lately, I'm not taking any risks." declared Manfroy as he dusted himself off. He indicated the pile of ash with his head "Have someone clean that up, and if there are no REAL objections, I AM sending Skaro to Thracia immediately. I'm well aware of his instability, but that just might be the wild card we need. Now, what is next on our agenda?"

In Conote, Blume was preparing a retaliatory strike against the liberation army. And by preparing, I mean that he was mostly ranting at Vampa, who was the one who was actually organizing their forces. While he criticized her failure to stop the liberation army's advance, thus allowing him to come to harm, she did her best to calm him down.

"Yes, sir. We failed, but only because we were not as prepared for the situation as we thought. The situation is under control now. Generals Muhammad and Ovo are nearing the enemy now. They shall launch a two pronged attack on Leonster and Alster. That should divide the enemy forces enough to ensure a sweeping victory once I take my sisters into the fray and launch a third strike." she said to him, explaining her plan.

"Your typical pincher maneuver, huh?" said Blume, raising a skeptical eyebrow. "Very well then, I'm counting on you. However, I'm not sure that you alone can counter this threat. Tell me, has King Travant sent reinforcements yet?" asked Blume.

Vampa didn't even bother to shake her head, she simply bluntly stated. "He has yet to respond to any of our requests for aid."


Vampa didn't bother to shake her head, she merely said "I recommend keeping an eye on him sir. He is not to be trusted."

Blume just gave her a blank stare, then waved his hand "Very well then, we'll handle the rebel army without him! Vampa, take your sisters and move out. Leave no survivors. Either they all die, or you do!"

Meanwhile, in Mease, Travant was confronted by his son regarding this same subject matter. "Father, King Blume has sent another request for backup. Apparently both Leonster and Alster have fallen to the rebels."

"I knew that Prince Leif had some success previously, but this turnabout is to sudden to have been pulled of on his own. He got reinforcements from the Isaacian, faction, I'm presuming?" said Travant, ignoring the statement. Areone nodded "The Isaacian rebels are led by Sigurd's boy, am I correct? This is now two armies led by teenagers that have given Blume's 'mighty' army a sound thrashing. Blume must be getting old to be defeated by mere youths. Granted, the strength and will of youths shouldn't be overlooked, but still. Keep ignoring Blume. Let them fight it our. Once the dust settles, we will strike down the victor."

"I knew it!" said Areone. "You've been waiting for just this moment, haven't you, father?"

"You're damn right I've been waiting! Do I really need to say it?! I've spent my entire life trying to take control of the northern peninsula. That goal was finally within my grasp after I disposed of Prince Quan in the Yied. Then in comes Blume with his army, snatching away my prize like he earned it! He's going to pay in blood for that! He's been rubbing it in my face ever since with his mere presence. If he's going to get my aid after all that, he's an idiot." growled Travant.

Areone simply shrugged in agreement "I understand how you feel, father. If only we were able to take on Grannvale outright, we wouldn't have this problem." said Areone.

Travant nodded. "There is no point on dwelling on that now. We must think towards to the future. Everything rests on the unification of the peninsula, and you know why. Areone, this rivalry that lies before us will determine the fate of Thracia!"

"Understood!" said Areone.

Back in Alster, Lewyn could sense that something was off. Seliph's forces had returned the night before, leaving Leif's forces in Leonster, but he was beginning to have doubts on whether that was actually a good idea. He expressed his concerns to Seliph. "I don't know, something seems wrong. Did we leave Leonster well defended?"

Seliph pursed his lips and said "There's definitely room for improvement. Do you think that we should some of our troops back to reinforce them?"

"Yes. I'm willing to bet that King Blume isn't wasting any time over in Conote, and we got a request from Manster for aid. We should begin moving as soon as possible."

Seliph thought for a moment then said "We should start our attack sooner than we had planned. It's the evening, so we'll let our troops have one good night's rest, and then we'll set out first thing in the morning." With that, they separated to inform the others. However, while Seliph was walking down the hall, he encountered Julia, who was bracing herself against the wall. Her face was very pale, and she had a hand clutched over her heart, and she was breathing heavily. Seliph rushed up to her "Julia! What's wrong?!"

"I suddenly have an immense feeling of... dread. There is something very evil close by." Then she made a terrible noise, it sounded like she was about to vomit. She didn't, but it was close enough to alarm Seliph even further.

"What is it? Do you have any idea of what, or who it is?" asked Seliph.

"I... I-" then she suddenly bolted upright and her eyes flashed for a second, and then she loudly proclaimed "Seliph, be careful! Ishtar is incredibly powerful! She must not be faced with anything other than a holy weapon!" she proclaimed loudly.

Seliph was taken completely aback. "Julia? What's happened to you?" he cried.

Julia's body jolted, she looked around her, looking utterly confused for a moment, then her eyes rolled back into her head, and she collapsed into a heap.

Somewhere nearby, a hooded figure, approached a young man with a stern demeanor dressed in crimson robes. The young man addressed the hooded one. "Skaro. I thought you were in Silesse."

"Manfroy believes that my... unique... talents would prove most useful in resolving the current... crisis at hand. I'm on my way to meet King Blume." replied Skaro.

"As is my Ishtar. Let me warn you, if she convinces her father to hand over the Mjolnir tome, then you'll be a redundancy."

"Doubtful. While your Ishtar is quite gifted, these heroic types are unfortunately not so easily eliminated. Kill a bunch of them, and the survivors will scatter only to come back later and make themselves a thorn in our sides once again. And don't tell me that you'll just have to kill them all. You can't. No matter what you do to them, there will always be survivors that will prove to be a pain later. No, the key to victory is to completely demoralize them."

"Which is what will happen once their leaders are slain. Surely-" suddenly, the young man stopped talking. His face turned bright red, his pupils dilated, and then he jolted back as if revolted by something, while clutching his heart."

"Lord Julius? Is there a problem that I can... deal with?" asked Skaro.

"So, the heiress lives." said Julius before snapping back to normal. He then turned to Skaro. "It seems that my twin has failed to do the right thing and drop dead. I have just felt her presence. It's weak and I cannot trace it, but it still exists. She yet lives. I imagine that she must have fallen in with the rebels. That would be SO like her." he growled. Then his face went eerily calm. "Interesting. I shall be watching closely as my Ishtar battles them. Let's see if she is indeed with them. Let's see if she is still as much of a threat now as she was then. If she is... questions for later. However, this revelation indicates to me that you will indeed be needed yet. Tell me, Skaro. What was your plan to demoralize them?" asked Julius.

Skaro grinned. "Tell me, milord. Are you familiar with the concept of berserker magic?"

Chapter Text

The generals Muhammed and Ovo were nearing their targets. Normally, they worked well together and were well coordinated. However, they were feeling a little extra competitive today. After all, if they delivered a crushing defeat to this particular enemy... well it meant that great rewards would lie in their future, and whoever delivered the more decisive victory... well, chances were that they would be allowed to pick their reward (within reason), and Muhammed had just one thing on his mind... Agustria. He wanted to be made ruler of Agustria. Now, normally this would be overly ambitious for a man of his station. However, such a lofty goal was indeed, somewhat plausible for him. He had never actually known his father, but his mother had always claimed that his father was none other than High King Chaagal of Agustria (As if that were a good thing to boast about).

Thus, Muhammed had always perceived himself as an uncrowned and unrecognized king, and he wanted to be crowned and recognized. In his mind, he stylized himself to be like one of the hidden princes out of the stories. He'd dreamed of claiming Agustria his entire life, and thus, he had developed something of a superiority/inferiority complex, and saw himself as much better than his own men and was extremely self conscious. Therefore, as his troops neared Alster, he became overly eager to prove himself, so he cried out to his men "Come on men! The rebel army is nothing to fear! Now fight and reclaim Alster! Fight with all your might and any who disobeys me shall lose their head! Now ATTACK!"

Now, Ovo had been observing Muhammed, and he knew exactly what his long-time comrade had in mind... and frankly, he was a bit miffed about it. So, before the signal was given or even before everyone on his side was ready, he declared to his horse-bound troops ""It's a straight shot from here to Leonster. Now charge in and put every ounce of your strength into your weapons! We will conquer them swiftly, and surely! We will not let Muhammed's squad show us up! I will hear no excuses or protests! Do I make myself clear?!" when his troops answered him in the affirmative, he gave the order to attack.

Fortunately, whatever happened to Julia was not serious, and the next morning, she was back on her feet. This, however, did not prevent the others; especially Seliph, Lana, and Ulster; from bombarding her with "are you alright?"s and "does anything feel wrong?"s. She had to constantly reassure them that while she had no idea what had happened to her, regardless, she was perfectly alright. She was almost relived when Lewyn came by with the scout's report on the enemy movements, forcing them to lay off on the interrogation.

Conveniently for them, it had been assumed that most of their forces had been stationed at Leonster, and thus, the forces approaching Alster were much smaller in number (As Bloom's priority was wipe out the enemy first, take back the castles second). This could work to their advantage. They could crush the smaller forces then sweep back up to Leonster. However, not convinced that the Leonster forces could hold out to the enemy's superior numbers (despite the fact that they had just survived a six month long siege), they decided that once most of the soldiers attacking Alster had been dealt with, they would have most of their mounted units ride north in order to reinforce Leonster while the foot soldiers finished the job.

All of the soldiers agreed to this arrangement. That is, all except for Ares. After the briefing, he pulled Seliph to the side. "Seliph, I would like to remain with the foot soldiers in fighting the enemy troops that are coming here."

"Why? Oh! It's because of Leen, isn't it? You're worried about her safety. I'm sure that she'll be fine, but if you are really that worried about her..."

"That's... a factor, but it isn't quite the issue here." said Ares, who proceeded to pull out the packet that Nanna had given him from his coat. "Back in Leonster, I met my cousin, Nanna, and she gave me this. Inside... is confirmation that you've been told the truth and that I've been fed lies my entire life. My father's demise was the work of High King Chaagal, not your father, I know that now." he sighed. "That is why I need to confront this general."

"While I'm glad to hear that from you, I'm not certain that I follow your logic. I... I think that you're leaving out an important detail or two, Ares. I do not see what that has to do with you needing to face this particular general." said Seliph, perplexed.

"The reason why is because, based upon the reports of ours scouts, I am certain that the forces that are about to attack Alster are lead by General Muhammed."

"And I take it that you know this man and that he is significant?" asked Seliph

"We've met once or twice. He's nothing special in terms of skill. The significance behind him, however, is who he claims to be... the bastard son of King Chaagal. He doesn't boast about it as much as he clearly wants to, but he does regularly make the claim. Nobody knows whether his claim is actually true or not, however, it's something that he's ALWAYS claimed, and I have heard it said that he indeed greatly resembles the late, unlamented high king, apparently about as closely as I resemble my father, so there might be some merit to his claims. For that reason, I must face him, regardless of whether he truly is Chaagal's son or not, in order to right the wrongs done to and by my father. Please, Seliph. Allow me to do this. I need this in order to attain peace of mind."

Seliph closed his eyes. "I cannot argue with that reasoning. In your position... I'd probably request the very same thing. There is a chance that Leif is going to request something similar so... Very well then, I will inform the others so that no one will steal your kill."

Before Fee could leave on the mission to Leonster, she was stopped by Arthur, who seemed oddly on guard and concerned. "Fee, please be careful. Don't go flying off all alone in order to try and do a reckless solo mission in order to impress your father or anything like that, okay?"

Fee was taken off guard by the sudden remark "Arthur! You sound like you are genuinely worried about me!" she exclaimed.

"I suppose I am." he said. "Look... I don't know if it's a mage thing or not, but I've had this sense of... foreboding, since... well, since about when Julia had her fainting spell. I hate to sound archaic but, I can sense a dreadful presence nearby. I suppose you can say 'by the twitching of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes'." he said, cracking a brief smile.

Fee giggled a little at that "And here I thought that you only thought about yourself and your own interests. Nice to be proven wrong. I suppose I should have paid more notice to those brief displays of real emotion."

"Real emotion?" asked Arthur.

"A lot of the time, your emotions sound faked, like you're a bad actor trying to get his lines right. It's rare for me to hear you display any signs of real, convincing emotions. About half of those times have been in relation to your sister, who hasn't even been with us for more than a week. I guess I'm becoming your only other emotional exception. Huh, I don't know if that's sweet or creepy. Heh, if it's the latter, the next thing I know, you'll be watching me sleep."

"I already do." said Arthur bluntly.

"Oh, well there you-" then her eyes popped. "Wait.. YOU WHAT?! YOU WATCH ME...?!" she cried, waving her arms and face turning crimson.

"Calm down. I'm not peeping on you. I only do it when we're sleeping in tents, so you are always decent when I watch you. I don't try to sneak into your room when we are at a castle so as not to risk indecent exposure. Anyways, I have trouble sleeping at night. Insomniac and a night owl, you know? So I like to stand guard outside your tent. I've been doing it ever since we joined this army. Partners, remember? And partners watch over each other. I figured you'd want a bodyguard anyway."

"Not when they sleep!" Fee cried, crossing her arms over her chest, as if to cover them. (As if that would do any good, she was fully dressed.) "Can't a girl have some privacy? Why don't you watch your sister instead of mooning over me?"

"I've been watching over my sister while we've been at the castles. I can alternate. Besides, I'm not 'mooning over you', as you put it. I'm not interested in getting laid, and I don't think that we're actually using that term properly anyways. Besides, how much privacy will you have if some ruffian, soldier, or beast bursts into your tent in the middle of the night?"

"I'd take care of him! I sleep within reaching distance of my lance! Don't you think I'd wake up if someone broke into my room or charged into my tent?"

"No. I've noticed that you're a very sound sleeper. You could be staying in a castle room and I could break in carrying a chair and blindfold, put the blindfold on, spend all night in the chair, and leave the next morning, still wearing the blindfold and carrying the chair, and you would never notice."

"Is that a bet?"


"Do that, and if I catch you, you stop watching me sleep."

"And if I win?"

"You won't. It's an impossible and unprovable bet." said Fee smugly, arms folded.

"Humor me. What would I win? How about money? Say... 2,000 gold. That shouldn't bankrupt you. Then I could buy a little something for myself and for Teeny."

"Fine! Bet's on Arthur!"

As the two forces approached one another, Blume was taking extra precautions. He thought that maybe if the army couldn't take down the rebels, then maybe an assassin could. And the perfect man for the job had just arrived, followed by two others.

"King Blume, did I hear correctly that you were in need of my services?"

"Ah Faval, I've been waiting for you. Yes, you heard correctly. Let us sit down." said Blume, rushing over to greet him.

Faval rolled his eyes "Forget that! I'm a busy man. If you want something, then just spit it out and send me on my way to get the job. Based upon the summons, I assume you're in a hurry to get this done, and rush jobs tend to be sloppy, so I've got no time for word games."

Blume wanted to shout at him for his insolence, but he held his tongue, barely. After all, he did have something of a point. "Yes, yes. I have summoned you for a purpose. I want you to assassinate the leaders of the rebel army, in the case that my own army fails to take them down." said Blume folding his hands "these rebels have given me a lot of trouble."

"Yea, about that." said Faval "There is one little problem with that. It's that I don't give a damn. Find some money grubbing moronic murderer to do your dirty work instead of badgering me.

There was fire in Blume's eyes, but he cooly said, "I understand that you have several orphans under your care. I'm sure the money would be appreciated. After all, I've heard that your sister has resorted to theft to make ends meet. Then again, I suppose that isn't to particularly bothersome."

"Patty really goes out of her way for those kids." Faval grumbled, knowing that he'd been caught. "Fine. I know I'm going to regret this later, but give me good money and leave the orphanage kids out of your child hunts, and I'll do your dirty work. But only this one time, do you hear me?" turning to his two companions, he said "Daisy! Asaello! Let's go!"

Being mounted while his enemies were not, Ares quickly located his opponent. "Muhammed, I thought that it might be you."

"Well, well, well. It's the lesser prince himself. Here to prove where your loyalties lie at long last? You can prove yourself by eliminating these rebels!"

"Oh, I'm here to prove my loyalties alright." said Ares, drawing his sword with a sweeping motion that killed two of Muhammed's soldiers. "to the son of my father's friend!"

"Really? How shameful of you Ares. How would your father react to you fighting your rightful king?"

"It doesn't matter what my father would have thought. He... his final acts were those of a fool."

"What?! You've always held your father in such high esteem! Why deride him now?!" asked a bewildered Muhammed.

"Do not misunderstand. I still respect him for the man he was. But he chose a misguided sense of honer over reason and his loved ones. I will not make the same mistakes. I will not serve a king that nobody loves. Let's face it Muhammad, if Chaagal really IS your father, it was because he raped your mother and she just used his status to make herself and you seem better!" This enraged Muhammed, and with a fierce glow in his eyes he advanced on Ares.

"Yes, come to me Muhammed, and I will do to you what my father should have done! to your father who was just as much a bastard as you!" and that began their clash.

Teeny saw them fighting, and decided to help out. She knocked Muhammed off of his feet with thunder magic. Ares quickly dismounted and knocked Muhammed's lance away. Ares grabbed him by the collar and was about to finish him off, when he heard Teeny scream. She had been cornered by an armor knight and a couple of mages. Ares dropped his foe while kicking the lance away, and came to her rescue. "Go find your brother!" he shouted. She nodded and ran off. Suddenly, Ares felt a sharp pain in the lower left part of his back, he spun around only to get an arrow lodged in his right hand, making him drop his sword.

Muhammed was crouching, firmly holding a Brave bow. "You should have joined me! You would've lived." he proclaimed.

"No!" cried Leen, who was suddenly present. She leapt forward and drove the tip of her Defender sword through the back of Muhammed's head then pulled it out. He survived the wound, but it made him keel over, vomiting blood. Ares captured his opportunity. He approached, carrying his sword in his left hand. He stuck the end of the Mystletainn in the hole Leen had created, and drove it all the way through, decapitating him. After shoving the body aside, he dropped to his knees in a daze.

"Ares?! Are you alright?!" Leen cried, suddenly scared. She ran and knelt next to him.

"I... I'm better than alright. I settled the score. I feel... I feel..." He looked at Leen with an adoring look. Suddenly he seized her, pulled her lips to his and kissed her passionately.

Chapter Text

When the reinforcements arrived from Alster, a full on enemy assault was underway. Fortunately, the terrain allowed for Leif's forces to bottleneck the enemy, so that they were not completely overwhelmed when help came. Oifey was glad that things had been working out so well thus far. It felt like... It was like serving with Lord Sigurd all over again.

Oifey immediately shook that thought away. No, he shouldn't think like that. He shouldn't start making comparisons now, it wasn't fair for this generations, and the gods knew that he didn't want them winding up in a similar situation to their parents. Lord Sigurd had been a magnificent military leader, but he had been a very reckless one. That recklessness is why he was now referred to exclusively in the past tense.

When Oifey had heard of his lord's demise, he had dedicated himself completely, in heart and soul and body, to raising his lord's son. He took precautions in his parenting style, hoping to ensure that, behavior wise, Seliph would not turn out exactly like his father. It appeared to have worked out, as Seliph was not nearly as headstrong and reckless as his late father.

Then again, it's possible that Seliph's demeanor didn't come from the way that he was raised. He could have merely inherited his mother's patience... wait a minute, what patience?! Her over-eagerness to return to her husband's side is what got her kidnapped in the first place! Heck, her wedding with Sigurd took places mere days after they first met! To the point that it had become an ongoing joke. With parents as thoughtless as that, it was a miracle that Seliph hadn't turned out to be incredibly impulsive!

When Oifey considered this, his chest began to feel a hint of pride. If that was the case, then his teachings must have been the direct cause of Seliph's current attitude! Well... their teachings. He couldn't rule out Shanan and Aideen having any influence on the young prince, teaching him the same lessons. The three of them had all dedicated themselves to teaching him the value in patience, good conduct, and thinking one's actions through. Oifey hoped and prayed that the outward appearance of those teachings working out was genuine and not just for show.

At the same time, Finn was having similar thoughts regarding Leif. The young prince had grown strong. And while his appearance and general liveliness more than proved that he was his father's son, Leif was much more... down to earth, than his father. Sure, he had some level of pride and strong-headedness; his gleaming white armor served as ample evidence towards this fact; however, the levels of pride that the prince had in itself were nowhere near those that his father had. Lord Quan wore a cravat to battle for god's sake!

No, hubris was not Leif's fatal flaw. Finn knew that Leif had some self-confidence issues to overcome. Something Finn knew for certain hadn't been an issue for Lord Quan. In fact, he had been much too confident in himself. Look at where that got him. No, better for Leif to have some self-confidence issues and be cautious because of it, rather than be zealously overconfident and getting himself killed.

Neither Leif nor Finn were unjustified in their mindset. The one time that Leif began to feel some pride in his accomplishments had been about six months prior, and it had cost them Dorias and about half their army. That had been a hard day for Leif and a hard lesson in general. Though to say that Leif took it the hardest would be to speak an untruth. It was Dorias' daughter Selfina that took it the hardest, becoming essentially cleaved to the side of her husband. Absolutely nobody was surprised when she got her wish of becoming a mother earlier than was probably wise.

This just made Finn hope that Leif and Nanna wouldn't latch on to each other to soon. Yes, Finn had noticed his daughter's feelings towards the prince, and he also noticed the subtle changes in Leif's behavior when he was around her that had been occurring lately, proving that he felt the same way. He might make a few mock threats towards the prince if he grew to open with it to quickly. That was a requirement as a father. In reality, however, he didn't really mind. In fact, he actually found the entire situation to be rather ironic.

As the youngest son of a minor noble, Finn never would of dreamed that one day that he would become the favorite squire of his sovereign, marry a princess from a foreign nation, and have a child that would become the lover of the heir to his own nation. He would have smiled and laughed over the whole situation... that is, if he could only remember how. The events of the last two decades... had worn him down into a husk of his former self. At least he'd have left a legacy, Nanna. If they survived and married, it would be a prosperous legacy too, as he also knew of his daughter's love and desire for several children. The royal family would bounce back royal quickly if no... complications arose. That's why he hoped Leif would wait a while before they got together, Nanna would probably try to start the family at the first opportunity!

There was no time for such thoughts though. He could see that Oifey was about to engage the enemy general. Finn was within range to help him, and so he did. The two of them ganged up on Ovo each taking turns attacking and defending. Eventually, Oifey delivered a critical blow, and then Finn managed to stab his horse, killing it and throwing Ovo to the ground. "Not... possible." grunted Ovo.

"Oh, it's possible" said Oifey. "Now surrender, and your life will be spared."

"Never" said Ovo, giving the cliche villain response.

"Ok then, bye!" said Patty appearing out of nowhere and stabbing him in the back.

"PATTY?! What are you DOING here?" shouted Oifey "Aren't you supposed to be down by Alster?"

"More enemies up here, more chances to loot. So I hitched a ride with a horseman and came with you guys. Also, don't tell me it's too dangerous for me up here, because frankly, I really don't give a damn." she said. "Besides, I have a feeling that I should be here. Gut feeling, you know? So I'm here, and you can't make me go away." she said. Oifey and Finn decided not to respond. They could both tell that she was to stubborn to argue with.

In Conote, a very important person appeared at the front gate; it was Blume's daughter, Ishtar. "You called for me, father?" she asked when she walked into the audience chamber.

"Ishtar? Thank the gods, you made it in time! Please... help protect me; the rebel army is well on its way here!" Blume cried out in a rather panicky voice.

This caught Ishtar off guard. Her father had always been cold, calculating, and calm. He had never been this... mortally terrified man in front of her. "Father! What has happened to you?! How could have a petty band of rebels-"

"Petty band?! PETTY BAND?! Have the reports not reached Grannvale yet? These are the Isaacian rebels! They overthrew King Danan, and then made their way here to reinforce Prince Leif! They are a massive force that is gaining ground everywhere they go, and they've broken through my every line of offense and defense."

"WHAT?! Why didn't Ishtore stop them before they could unite?!" cried out Ishtar, utterly astonished

"Ishtore is dead! Killed in action defending Melgen! I told you, they are sweeping through everything we throw at them! After they killed your brother, when they came to Alster, they got Teeny and Linda to defect!"

Ishtar's head was spinning. She lost balance, and had to steady herself on a nearby pillar. "Why... Why would they do that?"

Blume looked uncomfortable. "Apparently, it's because Teeny's long lost brother has resurfaced. He's with the rebels, and when he encountered the girls, he convinced them to switch sides. I fought him at Alster, and he nearly killed me... and his most powerful tome is Elfire! He's not a major, but he made up for it by being dangerously clever." Blume looked away. "I'll be frank with you Ishtar, I wasn't scared of him at the time, but now your cousin has me completely on edge. Not only is he clearly very dangerous, but that boy blatantly wants me dead. Even if the rebel leader wants to spare me, which I doubt, I'm sure that boy will arrange for me to have an unfortunate 'accident'. So that's why I need you now. PLEASE Ishtar! Do you really want your mother to be your only living family?!"

This question made Ishtar's pupils dilate and fists clench. She hated her mother with a passion, everybody did. She was an inhuman monster only interested in gaining more power. Her marriage to Blume had been purely for personal gain. Ishtar closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and calmed herself. She could grieve later. For now... there was only the mission. When she spoke, her voice exhumed an icy calm. "I see... in that case, give me the Mjolnir tome. It should give me the power I need to drive them away."

"You want the...?! Fine. Just don't slip up!"

"Don't worry father, I will not let you die!" promised Ishtar

Ares rode up to Leonster to rest up a little bit before rejoining the others. Though it probably wouldn't take long for him to recover, he had ulterior motives for being there. He returned to the jeweler he had visited before with Roddleven. He was only half surprised to see that Roddleven was already there. Apparently, they both had the same idea. After they made their purchases, they discussed their decisions.

"So, last time we were here, you said that you were going to wait for this, and you gave me three reasons to support your decision. What has changed?" asked Roddleven.

"I've gotten the... proof I needed to settle my doubts almost immediately afterwards, and I just got the final extra push that I needed." responded Ares.

"Wow, really? How did it happen so fast?" asked Roddleven.

"I met my cousin a few hours after I spoke to you. She gave me a packet containing... well let's just say it was a summary of my family history. I know for certain that I am on the right side of the conflict and am not working alongside my father's enemy now, thanks to that. Then, in this last battle, an opportunity presented itself for me to avenge my father. I won, but I almost died in the process. Leen actually managed to come to my rescue." Ares smiled

"The next thing I knew I was kissing her. When you are in that kind of mood, you notice things. She was startled but blissfully happy when I did that. But just before that, the look of fear in her eyes, her dread of losing me and being left alone with no one she knew... I realized that while the whole stable lifestyle thing does matter, it doesn't matter as much to her as just being with me. So, I intend to make her my wife the first chance I get. We could do a long term engagement and wait until after the war is done, but... given the situation... Well, I think that she'd be happy with either promise and any excuse to stay by me as much as possible, and I'd prefer a proper engagement, but... marriage would probably be easier in our situation."

Ares sighed "She's not much for being on the battlefield, and I could be killed or seriously hurt any day. If I do this, she'd be happy for as long as we both make it through this, and if my time comes, she'll have known what it is to be loved, and there's a chance... I'm not planning on this, but there is a chance that I could wind up ensuring that she will never be alone again even if I am gone."

Ares finished speaking and gave Roddleven a friendly look. "So, I presume you figured out what I was talking about last time we met. I take it that you have made your decision?"

Roddleven sighed, looked down and said "Yes, I have." Gulping, he looked up and said "I'm going to be a father, and I am not going to be the kind that abandons their child and its mother. I'm going to man up and accept the bad decisions I have made. The kid might not have been legitimately conceived, but it will be legitimately born. I've even thought of a name for it." said Roddleven.

"Your sister's?" asked Ares

"Yes. If it's a girl, it'll be Radney; if a boy, I'll just exchange the A for an O."

"What if there is more than one?" asked Ares

"Then it'll be named Jackie." said Roddleven.

"So you thought that out at the very least, but... I still feel like that's the only thing you've thought out. So you're planning on marrying Mercy." stated Ares, arms folded.

"Weren't you listening? That's what I said!" exclaimed Roddleven.

"Are you sure that is a good idea?" asked Ares.

"Am I sure... what the HELL are you talking about?!" exclaimed Roddleven angrily.

"As I understand it, you two barely know each other. You met each other... I don't know, twice? and you each had JUST suffered a personal tragedy. You both decided 'this person is nice and knows what I'm going through' and decided that was reason enough to make the other your bedfellow. Tell me, have either of you ever had a casual conversation? Have you ever talked for extended periods of time about something not related to your grief or your current situation? Do you really KNOW each other? Because, if not, this really doesn't seem like the basis for a lasting relationship to me."

"...what do you suggest I do, let the kid be a bastard.?!" exclaimed Roddleven

"Believe it or not, I've been witness to situations where it would've been better if the parents weren't wed because of a baby. This may be one of them. Take responsibility, raise the kid as your own, but marriage might be a mistake. There's a chance that you two aren't compatible at all in reality, and the kid's life will be worse off with you living together but bitter, then with you living apart and at least somewhat amicable." stated Ares.

"Like I'd take shit advice like that from a mercenary! I'm sure your mercenary daddy taught you that trick to make you feel less guilty about mercenaries who abandoned their families. Screw you, I don't have to listen to you!" snapped Roddleven, and he stormed off.

Chapter Text

What went unspoken between Vampa and Blume when she was given her assignment, was the personal stakes she had in fighting the rebels. Externally, she was only fighting them because she was merely following orders. However, in truth, if she hadn't been ordered to fight them, she would have volunteered for the job. She hated the rebels with a passion for what they had done. Or rather, she hated them for what their predecessors had done.

She and her sisters had been nine years old when Sigurd had returned to Grannvale. They were living with their mother, Vaha, in Velthomer at the time. When Sigurd's army arrived, Vaha had tried to stop them from moving on to the Belhalla. Unfortunately, most of Velthomer's forces had been relocated to Belhalla, leaving the city with the bare minimum number of defenders. Thus she had been quickly overwhelmed and slain. Thus the triplets had found their childhood, and their mother, cruelly torn away from them.

Vampa had taken it the best, managing to hold her sisters together despite technically being the youngest. Fortunately for them, they hadn't been left on the streets. Their family was somewhat well known for producing mages of above average calibre, with skill sets in all three primary forms of magic. Knowing of them, the Freeges had taken them in and groomed them for military careers. During said grooming, it became obvious quickly that Vampa was a natural leader, and her sisters, natural followers. Fetra and Eliu were practically helpless without Vampa's guidance, something that all three were well aware of.

Instead of fueling envy or bitterness towards one another, it fueled trust and love for one another. Yet despite things turning out so well for them, they all still held a grudge against Sigurd and his followers, and were more than willing to take down his successors. So while Vampa kept a calm, professional attitude on her way to battle, inside, she was rearing to go.

Both Ovo's and Muhammed's forces had been soundly defeated, and the liberation army was rendezvousing. Seliph, of course, was one of the first to rejoin the others. "By all accounts, it seems that this turned out pretty well for us, all things considered." he told Leif.

"Yes, this is why I'm glad you're here. Now things seem to be going a lot smoother for us now. Although..."

"What?" asked Seliph

"I'm actually rather surprised that we didn't encounter any mage generals. The Freeges are proud of their mages, so you'd think that they'd send some our way in order to accomplish a task as important as wiping us out." said Leif in a concerned tone.

"There were some mages at the attack on Alster." commented Seliph.

"Were any of them generals?" asked Leif.

"No, the general was an armor knight. Maybe you've already taken out the majority of their big generals?"

Leif shook his head "I doubt it. We know that Blume and those triplet generals are still alive, and you would think that he would keep more in reserve. Why would they hold back like this... Unless... Unless they want us to think that we've won." said Leif, pupils dilating.

At that moment, one of his axe fighters shouted, and Leif made an impressive leap backwards as a fireball erupted right next to where he had been standing. Seliph was flung sideways. He mumbled something to himself as he got off the ground. The liberation army archers immediately stepped into action, launching volleys of arrows at the mage sisters and their small squad. While most either hit the grunts or missed, an archer named Tanya, who was under Leif's command, got lucky. Her arrow struck Eliu in the shoulder. Her cry of pain alerted Leif and Seliph to her position among the trees.

Leif came into her line of sight first. Despite her pain, she still managed to hold herself upright and act boastfully. "Ah, the little prince who dared. Tell me, do you have anything that you feel must be said before you die?" she asked.

"Are you really sure that you should be asking ME that question in your condition?" responded Leif.

Eliu smirked at this and started launching volleys of thunder magic at him. Leif dodged most of them, and responding by using magic from his light sword. Since it summoned magic, and she had a resistance, she wasn't very hurt, but it it did take her temporarily off guard. Light swords were a rare thing and she hadn't actually seen one in action before. When her vision cleared, Seliph was mere feet away from her, ready to strike.

She leapt back, attempting to avoid the blow, but she wasn't entirely successful, receiving a long but shallow gash along the length of her chest, just below the neck. As she fell back after receiving this injury, she found herself grateful for the fact that her dress wasn't backless or held up by flimsy, impractical straps. Granted, if that were the case, the resulting distraction could have allowed her to turn the tide, but she'd rather attain victory while maintaining some form of dignity.

Her sisters soon came to her aid and force the two cousins to fall back in return, while Eliu, clutching her wound, got into position.

"You two have been thorns in the side of the empire for to long! That ends now. Fetra! Eliu! Triangle Attack!" shouted Vampa.

A fireball knocked Seliph over "I have got to find a way to make myself more resistant to magic attacks, or I just need to learn how to dodge already" he thought to himself. Then a blast of wind magic threw Leif into him. There was supposed to be a thunder blast that finished them off, but it never came.

"Eliu! I said-!" then Vampa recoiled in horror when she saw that her beloved sister was now impaled on the end of Delmund's sword. Through the front too, so she must've seen him coming and been unable to do anything about it because she was putting pressure on her wound.

"You are NEVER going to pull that cheap trick again." Delmund declared coldly.

Vampa let out a furious shriek and then all hell broke loose. The liberation army came upon the mage sisters, and they vastly outnumbered the now depleted mage squad. The remaining sisters now fought desperately for their very survival.

Fetra was taken down first. Carrion grazed her side, Lester shot her in the back, Nanna drained her with her Earth sword, and then Finn stabbed her in the heart with his Brave Lance.

This sight just made Vampa even more desperate. "Fire! FIRE! SPREAD FIRE EVERYWHERE!" her mind screamed. But Patty slashed her back, Salem poisoned her with one of his spells, and Oifey lodged a javelin in her leg. She launched one last desperate fireball at Leif, who made an impressive leap over it, did a flip, and brought his sword down with such force that it cleaved her in two.

At this point, the liberation army's advance came to a halt. They needed to wait for the rest of the army to finish their rendezvous before they advanced on Conote. Hearing of prisoners of war being held at a nearby fort, Leif decided to send some of his best troops on a rescue mission while they waited. A quick one, as time was of the essence here. So while they were waiting, Finn decided to have a talk with his step-son. "Delmund, can we talk?" he asked.

"If you want me to apologize to someone, it's not going to happen." said Delmund. Arms folded, refusing to look in his direction.

"What? No! I just want to talk to you. Talk about your life. You're my step-son, and I want to get to know you." explained Finn.

"I'm sure you do. Who am I kidding. I'm sure you don't. How about you stop beating around the bush and just tell me exactly what you want to hear from me." said Delmund, still refusing to look at Finn.

"Can't I simply be interested in how your life has been?" asked Finn.

"No, because that would imply that you actually care about me. We all know that's a lie. Because nobody does."

Finn was rather taken aback by that statement. "Surely they didn't neglect you as a child?" he asked

Delmund snorted, "Depends on your definition of neglect. I was raised by Shanan, Oifey, and Aideen. Tell me if you see the problem."

Finn clearly didn't understand, and Delmund rolled his eyes. "Seliph, Lana, Lester, Larcei, Ulster and I were raised by Oifey, Aideen, and Shanan. See the problem yet?"

When Finn still didn't get it, Delmund got visibly frustrated.

"And here I thought that you were supposed to be some sort of great war hero and great man. Yet your'e obviously so stupid that you can't figure out something so simple and obvious! Do I really need to spell it out for you?!" shouted Delmund angrily.

"Fine. I will. Larcei and Ulster are Shanan's cousins. Lester and Lana are Aideen's children. Seliph is the son of Oifey's deceased lord and master. Let me field you a question, whose favor and undivided attention do you think I had growing up in Isaac? Answer, NOBODY'S!" I was the odd kid out, left behind in a country where I didn't belong, and with people that I didn't belong with. And those I actually did belonged with? Well they clearly didn't try very hard to come and get me back. So obviously I wasn't worthy of your attention either." Delmund proclaimed angrily.

"That's not true. Your mother was desperate to get you back. She left Thracia to get you back years ago!" said Finn earnestly.

"So what Nanna said was true and wasn't one of those, "she's on a trip" lies to avoid telling a child that someone died. Mother came for me... alone. Tell me Finn, what the Hell is wrong with you?"

"WHAT?!" shouted Finn.

"You heard me. You claimed to love her, yet you let her cross the Yied Desert alone, an act that is widely considered to be suicide. What kind of horrible person are you?"

Now, Finn was mad. "Do you honestly believe that I LET her go? We had constant fights over what to do about you. As soon as she thought that it was safe to leave, she wanted to go and get you. I told her no, it was to dangerous and that everything could go wrong any second. But she wouldn't have it. Her baby was growing up far away from her, and she couldn't stand it. She claimed that I was refusing because I didn't give a damn about you because you were not my son, and I wound up telling her that you should have been." Finn sighed and rubbed his face.

"That was the end of our argument. The next morning, she was gone. She left a package she had made for Ares if we found him and left nothing else, not even a note saying where she had gone. She didn't need to leave one. I couldn't even go and search for her, as our hiding place was discovered almost immediately afterwards. So no, I didn't 'let her go' as you claim. She ran away. So that she could try and get you back." explained Finn. When he looked up and got a look at Delmund's face, he realized that he had said something that he shouldn't have.

Delmund's tone was as cold as ice. "So, you're saying that you should have been my biological father, and not just my stepfather. Tell me why that is. I'd love to know. While you're at it, you can tell who my real father is. Nobody wanted to tell me that. I know that it is because of something bad, but damn it, you are going to tell me what it was. Don't you go tell me that he was some wonderful, lovey-dovey soldier boy that was tragically killed in battle shortly after conceiving me. That's what they've been telling me all my life, but I never believed that bald-faced lie. Now, you are going to give me the real answer. Now talk. TALK DAMMIT!" he screamed.

Finn rubbed his forehead. He realized that he wasn't getting out of this one. So he decided to give in and tell Delmund what he wanted to know.

"Your mother was the bastard daughter of the king of Nordion and one of his maids. After she became pregnant, that maid moved away from the castle and raised your mother until her own death. Fortunately for your mother, around this time the king had decided to search for her and legitimize her, and she was brought to the castle. Lachesis was young, but had just reached the point where she would be considered a woman instead of a girl. She was beautiful, headstrong, and had a sharp wit to her. She made quite the impression on her half brother, Eldigan, when they first met. They became quite close. Soon, rumors spread that they were too close."

Finn sighed and added "I can confirm that there was some truth to these rumors. Eldigan became her template for her ideal man, and Eldigan did have feelings for her that he refused to act on, but they weighed him down and led him to make guilt-guided choices that he wouldn't have made otherwise. Eldigan eventually married a noblewoman from Leonster, and Lachesis refused any and all suitors." he took a deep breath and continued.

"When I came to Nordion with Sigurd's forces to stop the Agustrian invasion, Lord Quan appointed me as your mother's bodyguard. At first, she was contemptuous of the idea, believing that she could fend for herself. (and she could... decently enough. She needed more training, but she wasn't about to be captured and taken quietly by anyone), however, she warmed up to me, and we became good friends. I'll admit, I had even started to fall for her, but I didn't let is show. She was eighteen and an heiress to a foreign nation, and I was nineteen and the squire of the prince of my homeland. I didn't see any signs of her reciprocating my feelings... until the high king executed her brother for refusing to fight an old friend for the sake of a dishonorable man like him." Finn shook his head.

"Lachesis... was devastated by the loss. She came to me in order to find comfort. Emotional comfort, I was willing to give her, but she wanted more than that. She wanted to spend her nights with me and forget all of her troubles through us coming together. When I chose the honorable path, when I refused to cross that line... well, she did not take it well." Finn's voice lowered at this point.

"If I wouldn't give her what she wanted, then she would find someone who would. She found Beowulf. An old friend of her brother, a mercenary, and A PHILANDERING CAD!" Finn suddenly shouted. He regained his composure, but Delmund noticed that Finn was now refusing to look at him.

"He was... he was more than willing to grant her her wish. A few months later, I left Sigurd's company with my lord and lady, brokenhearted, knowing that she was expecting you. After my lord, lady, and their heiress were slaughtered in the Yied Massacre, she broke company with Sigurd and with Beowulf in order to bring me the dreadful news. You had already been sent to Isaac for your own safety by this point, as it had been expected that Lachesis would be traveling all the way to Belhalla with them. She came to Leonster to find me, and when the castle fell, she came with me in order to protect Prince Leif. We reconciled, eloped, and had Nanna. That, Delmund, is your origin story. I'm sorry that it wasn't a better one."

Delmund remained silent for several seconds. Finally he said "So... that's who I am. The bastard son of a LOVESICK WHORE!"

"DELMUND! Do not speak about your mother like-"

"Don't you tell me what to do. You have no authority over me!" shouted Delmund back.

"I'm merely repeating what you just told me. And in that case, it's no wonder nobody gives a damn about me. I'm merely the living consequence of a multitude of poor decisions. Nobody wanted me to exist, yet I spoil everything with my mere existence. Well you know what? Firinne was right, nobody would miss me if I died. Nobody still alive that is. So I might as well continue living and making all your lives miserable, at least I'd be doing something with myself. And for the record? You can go straight to Hell for all I care!" Delmund shouted as he stormed off. Finn could do nothing to stop him.

Chapter Text

"They seem to be staying in place for now. I think they are waiting on some kind of rendezvous. At least as far as I can tell. I don't know who they could be waiting for because I'm pretty sure that I saw a lot of the higher ups gathered there." said Daisy

"Then we'd better tread carefully. A direct assault won't cut it for the three of us. Could you tell me where, exactly, the leaders are positioned? Is there a way we can get close without being detected?" asked Faval.

"They are gathering by a cluster of trees just northeast of the village. So... yes." said Daisy.

"Good. That'll provide us with some cover. So, here is the plan. I get as close as I can, and then fire as many shots that I can before they pinpoint my location. Once they come after me, Asaello will provide cover fire from the side. Hopefully, it will buy us enough time to escape, and hopefully, the foliage will be too thick for their horses. We should be able to outrun them if the terrain is in our favor like that." said Faval.

"Are you sure that is the safest idea? That doesn't sound very well thought out." remarked Asaello.

"Do you have a better idea? If not, shut up." snapped Faval

"How about we don't do this at all?" asked Daisy "This... this doesn't seem right. If they are trying to take down the empire, then shouldn't we be helping them?"

Faval sighed "Look, I don't like our employer either, but do you really think that a rebel army will actually have the funds that we need? I hate it too, but we have to do this for the kids at the orphanage."

"Patty wouldn't approve." said Daisy resolutely, folding her arms and standing in Faval's way.

"And since when have I sought Patty's approval? And since when does she get to judge or hold the moral high ground? You know perfectly well that the two of us have very different standards."

"You can say that again." Daisy muttered under her breath.

Faval heard her remark, but chose to ignore it. "Anyways, earned gold is earned gold. Now let's get this over with."

Stealthily and quickly they got into position near the liberation army's camp. Faval drew his bow and had it pointed at Shanan. Asaello stood next to him, pointing an arrow at the man standing next to Shanan. They each lined up a head shot, and let loose an arrow. At that moment, a yellow aura surrounded each of them and the world seemed to slow to a crawl. Shanan recognized the familiar sound and saw the incoming arrows. Shanan suddenly seemed to have super-speed, and he tilted his body out of the way, barely dodging the arrow from Yewfelle, which was traveling about as fast as he was.

Asaello's arrow, however seemed to slow to a crawl in midair, and Shanan managed to snatch it out of midair and save the man next to him. He followed the path of the arrows with his eyes and spotted Faval and Asaello.

"Snipers! Right in front of me!" he shouted and rushed forward, drawing the Balmung. Faval shot another arrow, which Shanan promptly slashed out of the air.

"Shit." said Faval, who instinctively thrust his bow in front of him to absorb the blow. The two holy weapons struck one another, glowing yellow, and sending a blast of yellow wind across the camp.

Shanan was startled when his opponent's weapon failed to shatter beneath his blade, and then he got a clear look at it. He recognized it instantaneously. "Wait... You're!"

Faval used his leg to shove Shanan away and then he used his bow to bludgeon his head and knock him off balance. "Where's my cover?!" he shouted, turning sideways to see Seliph rushing towards him. He raised his bow and-

"Wait! Faval! Stop!" a voice cried out. Faval froze, and so did Seliph.

"Faval? What're you doing here?! Don't tell me you're working for Blume!" said Patty, approaching cautiously.

"Under protest." said Faval, sounding exasperated "He promised me a lot of money if I... wait... you're here, so that means... you're fighting alongside the rebels?!"

"Yes I am! We're here helping the people, and we're going to finish off Blume. Why are you working for him anyways?" she asked, tilting her head like a confused puppy.

"Oh, is that your fundraising plan for the orphanage? Get money for the orphans... by working for the man who made them orphans in the first place? Makes sense. It sounds like your typical brand of brilliant strategy to me" said Patty sharply.

Faval was rather taken aback by her reaction. He and Patty had had their arguments before, but... the look on her face... it looked to much like either spite or disgust. And for once, Faval found that he couldn't make a good argument against her logic. He sighed loudly, and lowered his weapon "You're right... I didn't fully think this through. Forgive me."

"Of course you didn't, the only thing that you think with is your... never mind, it doesn't matter. If you really think that way, then join us! Help us give the people peace!" said Patty enthusiastically.

Faval gave a small laugh "Patty... you've grown up. You sound like you're my mom! Ok, Daisy! Asaello! You guys win! Let's go!"

"You brought them?" said Patty, surprised.

"The chatterbox and the silent shooter who can't shoot? Yup."

"Can't shoot? My brother is an ordinary archer competing with a dick with a magical bow. What right do you have to complain about that? You should be grateful that nobody will be able to hold a grudge against you for killing-" Asaello put a hand over Daisy's mouth.

"After that first shot, I saw Patty from my position. I couldn't warn you." he said. Faval just nodded.

"So, you're Faval?" asked Seliph.

"Yes, and you are?"

"Prince Seliph" Patty whispered.

Faval's pupils dilated and he bowed quickly "Prince Seliph, please forgive me." he said.

"Don't worry about it. Patty told me about the orphans. It's a very understandable motivation."

"Yea, well, the ends don't justify the means. I can't believe I was stupid enough to work for the empire. I'm ashamed of myself. I vow to make it up to you, somehow." promised Faval.

"Well, thank you Faval, it's good to have you aboard." said Seliph, brushing aside Faval's hurried apologies.

"So... what are we doing now?" he asked.

"For now, waiting. Some of our forces are arriving from Alster, and a part of our forces are also waging a rescue mission at a nearby fort. Once we've regrouped, we'll make a beeline for Conote. Tell me, does Blum have many more forces to throw our way?"

"Not that I know of. The castle seemed deserted, and Blume made it sound like he had sent everything he had your way. Unless he's received reinforcements in the past... day, there shouldn't be much to worry about."

"Thank you Faval, that'll be all for now. Why don't you take some time to go and meet your relatives?" suggested Seliph

"...Relatives?" Faval said slowly.

"Yup." said Patty cheerfully. "It turns out that our mom has a twin sister, who's still alive and living in northern Isaac, and she has three kids. Two of them are with the liberation army. Look! Here they are now!" she said, pointing to them. "See, this is Lester. He's an archer like you, and this is Lana, she's a cleric."

Faval turned to look at them, and as soon as he saw Lana, his eyes lit up. "Well hello there Lana." he said in a suave voice.

Lester's smile began to shrink, and Patty looked like she was about to scowl. Then there was a sound like a thunderclap that captured everyone's attention. Internally, Lester was actually glad about the interruption, but externally, he shouted "Oh, come ON! Can we not have just one peaceful moment all to ourselves without interruption? Is that simply not possible?!"

It was not, because Ishtar was here. "I'm sorry about this, but you're all going to die." she said, and she began a barrage of attacks with the Mjolnir tome. Seliph, Finn, Shanan, and Oifey all tried to rush her separately, but that was the problem. They tried to attack her separately. Finn charged first. While he wasn't hit directly, he was thrown off of his horse. While this happened, Seliph was attempting to flank her. Ishtar noticed and immediately turned to blast him. Shanan realized that a direct hit would likely kill Seliph. So he leapt in and slashed at her. She barely avoided getting cut in half, instead, getting a slash on the side. The bolt directed at Seliph went wild. It didn't hit him, but it did send him flying into the brush.

Ishtar whipped around and fired another bolt at point blank towards Shanan. He held Balmung sideways in front of him and the bolt struck there. On a normal weapon, that would've simply conducted the electricity and made him even more crispy fried. However, since this was a holy weapon, the Balmung actually both absorbed and deflected at least half of the force of the bolt from Mjolnir. So, Shanan survived, but he fell to his knees, his body literally smoking.

Faval, observing all of this, decided that helping out with this would be the best way to show his use to the liberation army. He got into a well covered position, drew back the Yewfelle, and fired a glowing arrow, which shot right through her upper left leg.

"YOU DARE?!" she screamed, and suddenly, her complete attention was on him. She fired a bolt at him, but he managed to leap out of the way and dodge the bolt completely. As Ishtar turned in order to target to him, she stumbled. The injury Faval had just given her reacted to the sudden motion and her leg gave way. This gave Faval an opening, and he dealt her an identical injury on her other leg.

She dropped the Mjolnir term as she fell flat on her back as she fell flat on her back. It slid completely out of her reach. She began to sob. "No... I failed, Prince Julius... I'm sorry... I'm-"

"Going to live." said a cool, sharp voice. A red and black vortex seemed to form around Ishtar, causing the crusaders to hide away. Leaves swirled about and seemed to burn up, and the ash clumped together to take the form of a young man with crimson hair and a hypnotic voice. He stooped down to pick up the Mjolnir, and he handed it to her "Ishtar. I will not lose you here, I can't afford for you to fall now. Come with me, rest and recuperate in Belhalla."

"P-Prince Julius?! How did you-"

"That doesn't matter, my thunder goddess. What does is that I need you. You are the most important person in my life, so now come, join me." he said, reaching out to her.

"Of-of course, anything!" she said, reaching out for him. He lifted her up, quite easily it seemed, and held her in an embrace, an interesting feat to observe as he was practically bridal carrying her. Then, in a flash amidst swirling leaves, they were gone, with only the charred ground to prove that they had ever been there.

"So, Teeny, do you know much about Princess Ishtar?" asked Seliph a bit later.

"Yes, Ishtar was just like a big sister to me." she said.

"What about that boy who came for her, do you know anything about him?"

Teeny frowned "That was probably Prince Julius." she said.

"P-Prince Julius?!" cried Seliph, alarmed. "Why was he here? Did he come directly after us?"

"No, I don't think that he would attack us personally. Not unless most or all of his other options were eliminated and he decided to take us as a serious threat. Apparently he's rather arrogant, so that would take a lot. No, I think that he was just her to make sure that Ishtar remained safe. The two of them are lovers, you see." explained Teeny.

"So... what do you know about Prince Julius? Do you know him very well?" asked Seliph

"Not exactly. I've met him a few times at Belhalla. But from what I've seen of him, I'd say that he's... well, how can I put it? He's... got this sort of charm to him. He can attract others to his side, despite not being very... passionate in words or deed. He can be as cold as ice. It's can be quite terrifying, really. It's almost inhuman. He always seems his nicest when around Ishtar, though. He... does what he wants, but at the same time does what can keep her satisfied. Yet he's always clearly in control."

"So... is he manipulating her? Could we show this to her and get her to come over to our side?" asked Seliph

Teeny shook her head. "He's controlling, but from what I can tell, he's sincere in his affections towards Ishtar. I think that, while he is extremely possessive... He also genuinely loves her. I don't think that Ishtar could ever break away from him even if she wanted to."

Ishtar woke up in a bed in a lit room. She looked under the sheets to find herself dressed in a leotard. A rather conservative one, but a leotard nonetheless. She looked at the injured spots on her legs and found large rings covering them.

"They are there to help." Ishtar quickly covered herself with the bedsheets, and looked to her bedside to see Julius sitting beside her. "For the past week, the best healers in Belhalla have been doing their best to heal you while you've been barely conscious. I'm glad that you're finally awake."

Nodding towards where he legs were hidden he continued "Even with the best healers available, those injuries could've left you unable to walk for the rest of your life. I didn't want to leave you in that state, so I took measures. I created those rings and put them on you myself. They compensate for your injuries, and allow you to walk, even run properly. In fact, they've actually enhanced your body and what you can take. It's the least I could do after allowing this to happen." Julius said, studying her face. "I wouldn't deserve to have your love if I did anything less for you." Then after another brief pause, he added "Oh... and I wouldn't deserve your love if I did something like THAT, so fear not about that" he said after a couple of moments.

"What?" said Ishtar.

"I can see it on your face, you're worried about modesty and the possibility of having been taken advantage of. I had some of your servants watching me while I cared for you. I took your feelings into consideration. I may want you, but I want to earn you. Being a drooling gawker while you lay injured is the farthest thing from my mind, and not the way to make it happen." then Julius gave a sly grin. "Besides, if that were my intent, don't you think that you'd be wearing considerably less?"

Ishtar's face turned red briefly, then she broke into a giggling fit. Julius chuckled a little, then went serious again, as did Ishtar.

"Wait... I've been gone for a week? Father!" she cried, sitting up, pale and shaking.

Julius closed his eyes. "I sent Skaro and some of the Schwarze Rosen to defend him... they failed. I'm sorry."

Ishtar moaned as tears rolling down her cheeks. "Now... now SHE is the only family I have left..."

"...At the very least, they now know how you feel." said Julius after several moments

"Who? The Rosen or the-"

"The rebels. Skaro survived, retreated, and attacked them again when they arrived at Manster. The rebels had a casualty there."

"One casualty hardly-"

"A casualty of some significance." Julius elaborated. A casualty with holy blood.

"The prince?" asked Ishtar.

"Unfortunately, no. He's still alive. It was a lesser noble, someone significant only to the leadership. But they are devastated by the loss. As devastated as you are."

Ishtar sniffed "I hope so. So who? Who was it that died?"

Chapter Text

Leen met Ares just outside the village where the liberation army was gathering for the rendezvous. Ares dismounted and they began to walk around the perimeter. While they were making their circuit, they witnessed the rescue mission that Leif had sent out previously returning. Among them, was a man in a torn and dirty yellow cloak, with a disheveled look on his face. He was carrying an old axe. He stopped all of a sudden, staring straight at a young woman who was from Leif's camp but looked to be of Isaacian origin. She also stood still, looking rather stunned. The man smiled weakly. "I promised you that I wouldn't die on you, didn't I Mach?" he said

"Brighton!" the woman cried. She rushed forward and embraced him, burying her head in his chest, tears of joy streaming down her cheeks. There was applause in the ranks.

"Did... did she think he was dead?" Leen asked Ares.

Ares took a good look at the scene. "By the looks of it, that man was a prisoner of war, and that woman is his lover. Heh, would you react like that?"

"What?!" said Leen, a little startled by the question.

"How would you react if a loved one came back from what you were sure was their demise? Would you behave similarly?" questioned Ares.

"I... I don't know, I've never had a loved one." said Leen. Ares looked hurt by that statement "Before you" she added hastily. She put her hand on her forehead "Ugh, I'm not saying it right." she looked up "I might as well start from the beginning. I don't know where I came from. I have no recollections of my father, and of my mother. I have... images in my head of a beautiful young woman, maybe younger than me, dancing. Dancing in an outfit similar to my own, but in orange, and with her hair tied to the sides."

"...To the sides?" asked Ares hesitatingly. Leen demonstrated with her hair. "I believe that those are called pigtails. I've seen them on a few girls, I uh... I think it's popular with the girls who are somewhere in between childhood and adulthood."

Leen shrugged "I suppose so. You know as much as I do, I know they are a thing, but I don't see girls wearing their hair like that very often, so I wouldn't know. Anyways, like I was saying, since I don't know anything about my family, I don't know how old I am. I was a toddler when I was abandoned. So I just count the day I wound up at the orphanage as my birthday. The best estimate I can make is that I'm either seventeen or eighteen... I never got any extra details from my caretakers, and I never found out why she left me. When I grew up, I got an idea of why, and it just made me feel all the worse about myself."

"Would you mind giving it voice?" asked Ares

Leen closed her eyes. "When no one would adopt me, I took up dancing to make a living. That's when I discovered how lecherous men could be. I distinctly remember one day when a man grabbed me, and tried to have his way with me, similar to what Bramsel wanted to do. Luckily, a guardsman was nearby and saved me, but that made my thinking go down a dark path. 'What if the same thing had happened to my mother?' That was my initial thought, and then it just kept going. That thought turned into 'What if it happened to my mother, and nobody was there to save her?' What if that was how I came into existence? What if the reason my mother abandoned me was because every time she would look my way, she would be reminded of that one terrible moment, and eventually, she couldn't stand the sight of M-M-ME!" she said, bursting into tears.

Ares wrapped his arms around her and held on to her, letting her cry for a few minutes. Eventually, she stopped crying, sniffed, let go of Ares, and began to speak again. "I felt like I could never be a normal woman. That all I was destined to be was... eternal eye-candy and that's all that I ever was going to be. So I continued dancing, but without joy. Eventually, it felt like the men at Darna were pressuring me to let them have their way, and eventually, I couldn't take it any more. I left Darna, found a troupe of dancing girls, and joined them, hoping to find companionship while traveling the world... only for their next stop to be Darna, and Bramsel's court."

Leen laughed bitterly "Needless to say, I was not happy. When a bunch of mercenaries Bramsel hired came to watch us. I couldn't put my heart into the dancing. After the show was over... you approached us. All of the other girls started fawning over you, offering private dances and the like. But you weren't interested in them. You made a beeline for me, asked me for my name in a way that indicated that you actually cared, and then asked me for a dance. Not a private dance, not even a... suggestive one, just a regular, two-person dance. In the following weeks, you kept your eyes on me alone. And for once in my life, I felt like a normal woman. Because you weren't treating me like a toy. When you left in order to go after Seliph, I thought that I was being abandoned again, so I got mad at you... but then you came back and saved me from Bramsel, and you promised not to leave me and I...I... OH gods! I'd react like she did if I thought you lost!" she cried, looking at Ares. "I love you Ares! Please don't ever leave me!" she cried out again and latched onto him.

Ares held her tight for a moment, and then let go, and then he looked directly into her eyes. "I already promised you that I wouldn't. And do you know why? Because you're the only girl I've ever truly wanted. Jabarro never thought much of women. He only saw them as tools to fulfill his desires. And, I could sympathize with the plight of those women. Sure, he raised me, but I knew all along that it was only because of my bloodline, and more specifically, my ability to wield this." he said, raising the Mystletain.

"So I decided from a young age that I would treat women in the manner opposed to Jabarro and his men. With respect. I have always strived to look at women as individuals, and not as mindless..." he didn't continue the thought, he simply made a disgusted noise.

"The thing is, it can be a bit hard to put that into practice when practically every woman you meet throws herself at your feet. You didn't, and that was the second thing that I noticed about you. The first was that, while you were surrounded by others, you seemed to be totally alone in the world. Again, I could relate to that. So I decided to get to know you better, and I quickly found that I liked what I had found. Upon discovering you, I fell in love for the first time. I've wanted to make you mine for a while now, but I was always held back by my lifelong grudge."

Ares stopped and looked away for a few moments, letting silence reign for a few moments, before he continued the thought. "Now, however, I have discovered that the grudge that has weighed me down for so long was misplaced. Now, in a manner of speaking, it has been settled somewhat anticlimactically. Yet... somehow, I'm ok with that. I suppose it is because I now know that I am on the right path. I feel that... I feel that for the first time in my life, I am truly happy." he said, and he looked at Leen, and smiled. She smiled back at him.

Ares decided to finish his thought with this clincher. "And so... I want to share that happiness with you. So tell me Leen, will you marry me?"

"What?!" she said taking a stunned step backwards.

"Perhaps a visual will help." said Ares, pulling out the ring he had so recently purchased. "Will you marry me?" he asked again.

"YES!" screamed Leen "OH GODS YES!"

Fee and Arthur were eavesdropping from a short distance away. "Awww, how romantic" squealed Fee in delight.

"Yea, proposing in the middle of a war. Great idea." said Arthur.

"Oh stop it! It's a great idea. Plenty of people think it's a good idea to resolve their romantic issues and get married in the middle of a war. Just look at all of our parents! And this is Ares we're talking about. He'll be extra protective of Leen now. Trust me, they'll make it through. They have to. After the war is done, they can go someplace really romantic for their honeymoon. OOH! Like maybe a beach somewhere!"

Arthur snorted "Oh please, I can think of a ton of places that are more romantic than the beach."

"Name one." said Fee.

"How about a dilapidated old cabin in the middle of the forest?"

"That's not very romantic. That sounds like a good place to get murdered."

"It's better than the beach. I can say the same thing about the ocean. The water is great at conducting thunder magic."

"Arthur! You don't have a romantic bone in your body, do you? Seriously, what did the beach ever do to you?"

"I used to have a romantic bone when I was thirteen. I was broken and never mended. It was shattered and ground into an irreparable fine powder."

"Oh please! Mr Melodramatic! What? Did your first crush utterly reject you or something?"

"Sure, we'll go with that." said Arthur quietly

Fee rolled her eyes, and then noticed Ulster running up to them. "What is it? Are we ready to attack Conote?" she asked. Ulster nodded.

"Alright, we'll tell the newly engaged couple." said Arthur.

"Newly engaged couple?" asked Ulster.

"Here they come, be prepare to attack, men!" shouted Commander Mort of the Schwarze Rosen as the Liberation army approached Conote

"No. Wait." said a man in green robes behind him.

"Don't tell me what to do Skaro. You may have been sent here to help... for some reason... but I command this unit. I'm in charge here, not you." snarled Mort.

"All I'm doing is trying to save you on resources. Why don't you just have some of your men use these instead?" said Skaro, drawing out a number of small staffs. "Use these instead of your normal weapons, and watch the chaos ensue."

"What are those? They look familiar." said Mort.

"As they should, commander. They're modified Berserk staffs."

When the liberation army was approaching the gates of Conote, Skaro's plan was put into action. Delmund, who was still seething from his conversation with Finn, suddenly lost all focus on the world, and could see only red, and so he turned on his comrades. He wasn't the only one. Other soldiers were soon to follow. "Wha-What's going on?!" cried Fee, now fending off an ally turned enemy. Arthur grabbed the man from behind, and then turned his face about to look into the man's eyes. His suspicions were confirmed.

"Someone's using Berserk staffs on us!" he shouted, and then proceeded to headbutt the man. He then turned to another and punched him in the solar plexus, then swept his legs from under him. "Either knock those affected out, or lure them to where the enemy is and get the hell out of the way. We need to find whoever is using them and take them out before they can make the situation worse!" he gripped his head in pain. "Augh! They're over there! Quickly!" he shouted, pointing to where the enemy was hiding before succumbing to the effects of the Berserk staff himself.

Word spread around the battlefield quickly. "Great!" shouted Larcei. "I've been waiting for an excuse to do this!" She proceeded to charge and leap towards at a tree, she pushed off of it, and launched herself higher into the air, above Delmund's head. She then proceeded to drop kick Delmund off of his horse. Thanks to the blessings of his holy blood, he didn't get receive a broken neck and permanent paralysis from this stunt.

"GET! YOUR HEAD! TOGETHER! YOU! ASSHOLE!" shouted Larcei as she smacked him upside the head with the hilt of her blade multiple times. Of course, all this managed to do was knock him unconscious. Satisfied that he wouldn't attack anyone else, she moved on to her hunt for the instigators of this incident. She quickly spotted one of them. He raised his staff to cast the spell on her, but she was to fast. Drawing her silver sword, she sliced through both staff body, leaving him in a crumpled heap. Seeing the other sect members nearby, she began to cut them down en masse.

None tried to use Berserk on her now, as she was closer to them than any of her allies, and thus Berserking her would essentially be a pointless gesture, it could potentially make the situation even worse for them.

"We should depart." Skaro told Mort.

"What?! But it's only one girl! Even if she is powerful, we should easily-" and then he realized that they were surrounded by the rest of the liberation army.

"I say we cut our losses, and attack later, and with a more refined plan... and more refined staffs." said Skaro.

"This was your idea! So if the plan was shit it was because you are terrible at planning!" screamed Mort, but he gave the order anyways, and the Rosen warped away.

Skaro stayed a moment longer than everyone else, taking a moment to study Larcei. Then he noticed Arthur. "So... the boy is still alive and part of the Liberation army now, huh? This'll be fun!" he said, grinning maliciously. Then he teleported away.

Once all of the liberation army troops had regained their sanity, they properly assaulted Conote. It wasn't much of a battle, and Blume was quick to surrender. He was stripped of his armor, and he was brought before the leaders of the liberation army. "Lord Blume of Freege. Please, enlighten us here and now of the reasons why you shouldn't be struck down where you stand." said Leif.

Blume smiled "Simple, because you fancy yourselves heroes, and a hero will never kill a man when it is not necessary. As you can see, I am a prisoner, and I'm making no attempt at escape. My death isn't necessary, and you could still make use of me. As a hostage or a source of information. Thus, you should show me mercy."

"Mercy? You, beg for mercy, Blume?" said Arthur. He shook his head "Why should we deliver unto you what you never even considered delivering onto your enemies? You subjugated an entire sovereign nation with little proper justification, and ground them under your heal. Oh you've made excuses for your actions. But let's be honest. You're simply an old racist who thinks he's better than everyone else due to where he was born. This war... this war should be about tearing out such thinking from the root, and you should make a fine start."

"...While he's being rather harsh about it. I'm finding myself sort of agreeing with Arthur." said Leif. " Maybe it's because I'm biased because this is personal. But I like to believe that I am thinking with justice on the forefront of my mind. You are a monster, Blume. You have no regard for life or the very people that you claim to rule. Why should we treat you any better than you treated them? And why should we risk you returning to the enemy and causing more trouble?"

Blume was beginning to panic. "Because it's not the hero's way! It's not honorable to kill an unarmed prisoner! Teeny! You tell them!" he cried out, sounding like he was begging. Teeny shied away.

"Oh! Honor! You got us there!" said Arthur as he walked behind Blume. He turned to the others and said "I guess that we should just do what the man says, or we'd be acting dishonorably!" he said. He waited for a moment, and then he spun around and sent a fireball straight at Blume's unprotected back. Stunned, Blume looked down to see a hole burnt through his chest. Arthur lifted his chin up and looked him in the eyes. "Why bring up honor? You never had any." and then Blume's body fell facedown to the floor.

Seliph, who had wanted to keep Blume alive, or at the very least not be killed yet, was furious. He drew his sword and demanded that Arthur be arrested. After some chaos, Arthur was put into the nicest cell in the castle, and Seliph, Leif, and the other adults were left debating the situation in the hallway. Seliph insisted that what Arthur had just done was a war crime.

Oifey and Leif disagreed with him. "Sure, he acted rashly, but he's been waiting for his revenge for years now, so it's understandable that he'd lash out like that. Besides, if we kept Blume alive, he'd likely provide us with more risks than benefits." said Oifey.

Seliph was willing to concede his point, but... "Then why couldn't he wait a few minutes for me to give an order?" he asked, turning to his cousin he said "Leif! You probably had more grievances against Blume than Arthur did. Don't you think that he should have let you do the deed? And make it public? You know, in order to show the people that you are here to restore proper order to the peninsula?"

Leif crossed his arms. "To tell the truth... I'm actually alright with how this turned out. To be honest, I was kinda riled up to, and he beat me to it by about five seconds. I was seriously just about to lop his head off, and then tell him that I'm no hero. Arthur's style of execution was just as satisfying to watch, so I'll take it. Cruel as that might sound towards the man. However, I do think we should talk to him about this, and maybe involve a few others. We'll need to make sure this won't be a recurring theme. We can't have our men acting on their own and enacting vigilante justice."

Leif then noticed that Fee, Teeny, Linda, and a reluctant Amid had come to ask for permission to visit Arthur. "What do you guys think about it?" he asked them.

"I... I can't believe that Arthur would do such a thing! Blume wasn't the nicest man, but... but he was better than Hilda!" said Teeny.

"Really? You didn't see it coming? How much time have you spent with you brother? I saw this coming about five minutes after I met him." snarked Linda.

"I... am not quite sure what to say." said Fee. "It feels like I can never quite get a good read on him and predict his behavior. Even when I think I understand him, I find out something new about him."

Amid just rolled his eyes. "Seriously? It hasn't become obvious to you guys yet? Arthur... is completely emotionally unstable and dangerous. A result of our shared, crappy childhood."

"You shared all his experiences, right? So you're saying that, for some reason, you're perfectly stable and he's not?" asked Oifey.

"Yup. He's just a psycho jerk with holy blood." said Amid with a smug look on his face. Then he grew serious "Then again... I never 'escaped' from a child hunt. So maybe I can't fully blame him for the 'psycho' bit." he said

Everyone else froze in place upon hearing those words, and for several moments, no words were spoken. Then Seliph gave uttered a flat, but very loud "WHAT."

"Oh, yea, a few years ago, Arthur and three other kids in our group were captured for a child hunt. Arthur's the only one who came back. He claimed he escaped."

Seliph and Leif looked at each other. "You don't sound convinced." said Leif.

"Well, yea! Nobody just 'escapes' from a child hunt! And if he honestly did, then why couldn't he share those survival skills with the kids who followed his lead after that? About two dozen kids chose to follow his lead at one point or another you know. They are all dead now. Let me just say, not all the kids who followed my lead wound up dead! He's probably using us or being used. All the surviving kids agreed on that." concluded Amid.

Teeny and Linda were now pale, Fee's hands were now covering her mouth, her eyes were obviously moist, and the other stood, staring. Utterly aghast at what Amid had so casually declared. "Oifey. Amid. Take the girls upstairs and have them join everyone else. Fee, you're free to come with us if you want." said Seliph.

"Why? What are you doing?" asked Amid.

"We're going to talk to Arthur about his childhood." said Leif.

Chapter Text

"Alright, let's just get the worst out of the way immediately. What do you have in store for me?" asked Arthur as Leif, Seliph, and Fee entered his cell. "Are you seriously considering keeping me in this cell for the rest of the war? That's not going to happen, I can promise you that. I can leave anytime I want."

Seliph raised an eyebrow at that declaration, but he shook his head. "No. I've decided that in that moment, we both acted out of anger. It's almost certain that you're going to be let out shortly."

Arthur stood up excitedly "Alrighty then! Lead the way out!"

Leif held up his hand. "Now hold on, we will be releasing you AFTER we have a good talk with you. We need to make sure that you won't behave in this manner on a regular basis. Therefore, we would like to hear about your past. It might help as get an idea of what would set you off, and give us an idea of what to keep you away from in order to prevent a repeat scenario." explained Leif.

Arthur snorted "So, you're basically asking, 'tell me about your childhood. We think your anger issues are tied to it. Well, you're a bit late to the party. Rand already beat you to it." he said, pointed to a corner where the bard was sitting, listening in. He gave the others a little wave. "I've already told Rand about the last time I saw my parents. If you want to hear that bit, ask him. I am not repeating it." he said firmly.

Seliph was about to reply, but was interrupted by Fee asking the bard "Why are you interested in Arthur's childhood?"

Rand sighed and said "I've been to a lot of places, and have met a lot of... shall we say unique individuals. After all my experiences, I've come to realize that no man is without their crippling demons. Some have already confronted those demons and accepted them, others... refuse to. Which is unfortunate, as they really need to. This kid clearly has some major demons he needs to tackle, and well... Sometimes, all it takes is having someone there who is willing to listen to you vent out your problems to make at least some of the problems... well, not go away, exactly, but rather it makes them feel less... pressing. I know I would want someone to listen to me and not simply lock me up if I did something like that so... here I am."

"And I appreciate the sentiment." stated Arthur "but like I said, I don't want to repeat myself, so if you guys are down here for the same reason... you're going to have to get what I already said from him."

Seliph and Leif looked at each other. "That's ok, because we really only want to hear about one event from you." said Leif "We were talking to Amid and-" Arthur scoffed, rolled his eyes, and leaned back in his chair. "-and he said that you... he said that you had escaped from a child hunt."

Arthur's disinterested face immediately turned solemn. "Oh- he told you about that, did he? Let me guess, the way that he put it was that I 'escaped' from a child hunt." he said, doing air quotes. "That asshole has been convinced that I am a double agent for the empire ever since that awful day. He managed to convince a good number of the other kids too. It doesn't surprise me that he'd try to convince you guys of the same thing." he said bitterly.

"Arthur, I want to hear your side of the story. Would you please tell us?" asked Fee.

Arthur sighed "Do you guys have something I can snack on? I'm going to need the extra energy... all the energy I can get... before I can talk about the worst day of my life."

"Here you go." said Rand, tossing him something.

"What is this?" asked Arthur

"It's an apple." said Rand

"I know it's and apple, but why give me an apple, specifically? I'll look like an obnoxious jerk if I just sit back and eat it while telling my tale. I know because Amid just LOVES telling everyone how terrible I am while eating one of these." said Arthur, tossing it back. Rand sighed and put it away and pulled out a banana. "Seriously?" said Arthur with a raised eyebrow. Rand rolled his eyes and pulled out an orange. "That'll do." said Arthur, accepting it.

"Oh! Do you have another one of those?" asked Leif, and Rand tossed him one. Then he looked at Fee.

"No thanks, I prefer pears myself." she said, and to her surprise, Rand tossed her one.

"Ok, do you happen to have every fruit that can be found on the continent in your pockets?" asked Seliph.

"Yes, and some that aren't from this continent." said Rand.

"Like what?" asked Seliph, now curious.

What Rand pulled out next, shocked everyone, albeit Fee was the only one who had actually seen one before. "A PINEAPPLE?!" she cried

"How did you even?! Never mind. Arthur, can you please tell us your story now?" asked Seliph, waving him off. And so, as soon as he regained his composure, Arthur began.

"Even though I love Silesse dearly, I admit that it was not a perfect place. I grew up in the backwoods, as a result, I've seen the country at its best... and at its very worst. And despite all the good that CAN be found in the country... you can't survive on your own." he said shaking his head. "Especially not when you were as young as I was, and certainly not in a world where crime and vileness are the law and the norm, not the exception."

"As you would except in a world such as this, I wasn't the only child torn away from their parents at a young age. Those of us who found one another up there in Silesse, we banded together in order to make survival easier on us. The youngest among us was just out of their toddler years, and the oldest among us was in their late teens... and we needed them. They taught us caution and survival tricks. Yet despite them and their learned caution and the caution that they taught us... from time to time we could be careless." with that declaration, a sorrowful look crossed his face.

"And one day, when I was... god, I think I had to be around thirteen, some imperial soldiers managed to lay hands on me and three others; Kay- a seventeen year old who could dual wield swords, and whom I saw as an older brother. Gwen- fourteen years old and already beautiful... I'll be honest with you guys cause it's relevant. She was my first... and so far only... crush. She could use tomes, but she had a strange preference for throwing knives. Finally, there was Lance- don't let his name fool you, he actually used swords. He was my age, and my best friend. Our only point of argument? We both liked Gwen." Arthur sighed deeply

"Anyways, I don't want to go into detail on what led to our capture, but we were, and so were about... oh, about 45 other kids. And when I say kids, I mean the four of us were probably the oldest ones there. We were fed, and then put in cells in groups of five. Gwen was separated from us, so it was Lance, Kay, and I with two random kids in a cell. We found a tunnel in the cell, and it was decided that I would go down it to see if it lead to a safe way out. It didn't lead me out, but it did lead me to a wall through which I could hear a conversation..."

"So, Gareth this is your first child hunt. Are you excited? I can show some of the tricks of the trade." said one voice

"Oh... thanks Agravain, but... I'd rather try to do things my way this first time. Just to see if they work." said Gareth.

"You don't sound very excited. Don't tell me you're getting cold feet! The ancestors of these brats hunted us down like animals for generations! Remember, what we are doing here is justice and divinely appointed retribution! They are paying the penalty for what they have done to us. Don't tell us that you don't believe in justice, Gareth!" said a third voice.

"I-I" stuttered Gareth.

"That's enough, Gaheris." said a fourth voice. "Gareth, I understand if you have uncertainties about this. I had them when I first started going on these... hunts. But this is our lot in life now, and we can now do it as a family. We will be here to discuss any... quandaries you may find yourself in."

"That's right!" shouted Gaheris and Agravain.

"The four brothers, Agravain, Gaheris, Gareth, and Gawain! Hunting down these miserable excuses for humanity together!" shouted Agravain.

"Five brothers." corrected Gawain. "Mordred will be helping us as well."

Gaheris snorted "And why should we let that half-breed bastard help us?"

"How about because he's a dark bishop and none of us are?" said Gawain. "He's got skills that we don't have."

"A great help they were in preventing him from earning his nickname." grumbled Agravain.

"That was more than five years ago, he's made great strides since then. He's made something that can change up how these hunts go, make them more... interesting." said Gawain.

"How so?" asked Gaheris.

"A special drug that we put into the children's dinner. It increases their overall aggression and adrenaline for about 24 hours and, well... if you use a berserk staff on them while it's still in their system, the effects will last longer, and they will be able to use underhand tactics instead of just thrashing about wildly. Instead of just an easily countered attack attack attack, they will still attack anything, but be able to strategize. At least, that's what he's promising. It's still in an experimental phase, so it might not work quite as intended."

"That sounds like it'll be fun to see in action!" said Agravain enthusiastically. At that point, Arthur could listen no longer, he made his way back to his cell, where he told the other four what they heard. They all made themselves vomit in hopes that it would purge the chemical from their systems. The guards suspected nothing. Vomiting was common enough here.

"The next day, we hid ourselves near some large boulders once we were set loose. They gave us a five minute head start. They gave us our weapons back... I'm still not quite sure why they did that. Anyways, it wasn't long before those brothers I had overheard the previous night found us. I kept throwing fireballs from my hiding places in an attempt to keep them away. It didn't work, and they pushed one of them forward..."

"Gareth, it's your first hunt, you get them!" said Gaheris.

"But they have weapons! One of them is a tome user!" cried Gareth anxiously, but he was pushed on anyways. He snuck his way through the rocks while his brothers provided a distraction. (mostly Mordred with his magic). Gareth eventually came face to face with Kay. They got into a swordfight that led them continuously up the rocks. They spoke as they battled, Gareth explaining himself and apologizing the whole time. "You seem like a decent fellow, I'd hate to kill you." he said.

"You seem like a decent fellow, I'd hate to die." Responded Kay. Kay's mind was racing, he was beginning to think that perhaps they stood a chance of survival if he could talk Gareth into switching sides. Kay never got the chance to talk him down. Arthur did not hear their conversation, and he did not realize that it was Gareth whom Kay was fighting. Seeing the supposed peril Kay was in, Arthur launched a fireball at Gareth.

It didn't hit him directly, but it made him lose his footing, and he fell ten feet onto a protruding rock, the force of which snapped his spine in half. Seeing this, the other brothers went on the warpath, and Kay decided it would be best to retreat, so they ran, but in doing so, lost the other two children in their group; one lost his footing and fell into a crevasse, and the other was shot in the head by an arrow and fell.

Eventually, they made their way into the forest. At first, they thought that they had lost the brothers. Then Gaheris appeared on top of a nearby boulder. He leapt straight at Arthur, lance primed to stab him in the gut. Kay saw this and shoved him out of the way and brought his swords up. The two men collided and tumbled to the ground.

"KAY!" cried Arthur and Lance, running to where they lay. They turned them over, and to their dismay found that the two had stabbed each other in the heart.

"We didn't have much time to mourn. The other brothers were right on our tail. So we had to keep on running. Eventually, we ran into Gwen... who was under the influence of a berserk staff. We eventually knocked her down, and since she got up slowly and didn't immediately attack we assumed we had broken through the staff's effects..."

"Gwen? Are you ok? It's me, Arthur!"

"And it's me, Lance! Are you you again? Are you no longer under the influence of the staff. Gwen? Speak to us!"

Her gaze seemed out of focus at first, then it sharpened and she cleared her throat. "Y-yea, it's me. S-sorry..." she muttered

"It's ok Gwen, you weren't yourself. Now that we are back together, we can survive this together." said Arthur who reached out to her, and she grabbed his arm, and he pulled her up, Lance jealously looking on. As he pulled her up, her pupils dilated and her grip on Arthur's arm tightened.

Suddenly, Arthur felt his flesh burning, he cried out, but then he suddenly found himself flung into a nearby tree. Gwen then spun around and threw a knife into Lance's shoulder. Using wind magic, she swept him off his feet.

"Crap! You're still... Gwen! Wait!" Lance cried as she shocked him with thunder magic, Arthur deliriously watching. "Arthur, HELP!" Lance cried, reaching out to him. Gwen buried a knife in the ground, blade up, and slammed Lance's head down, hard, right into the blade.

"NO!" cried Arthur. Gwen then spun about and launchd a knife at Arthur using fire magic. He disintegrated it with a fireball of his own. Gwen kept using spells to launch knives, and Arthur kept blasting them out of the air. Arthur was now getting angry.

"Damn it Gwen! Please stop! We both loved you, and now you...!" Arthur choked

Gwen said nothing, she only glared at him and continued her assault. Arthur was filled with emotion over this situation. As his mind raced through the events of the past two days, he grew increasing hurt, upset, and angry. He was full of... wrath.

Arthur's eyes glowed bright blue and so did his flames. "DAMN IT GWEN! STOPIT! STOPIT NOW!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, eyes blinded by tears, and launched an azure fireball. The volley stopped. Arthur's vision cleared, and to his horror, he saw that there was now a hole burned through her chest.

She stared at him for a moment. "Ar-thur..." she gasped. Then she collapsed into a heap.

Arthur didn't even have enough time to go into shock. Agravain, Gawain, and Mordred were closing in on him. Arthur started running. He kept running until he ended up on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Seeing his enemies approaching rapidly, Arthur did the only thing that he could do. He jumped.

The other three reached the cliff edge. "That little brat isn't going to get away from me!" shouted Agravain, and he jumped in after him, against Gawain's protests. He considered going after him, but Mordred stopped him. "There is nothing you can do. They are both dead."

"What are you talking about? I can see them both swimming over there." said Gawain.

"What do you think we do with all the bodies?" asked Mordred "We feed them to the fishes." he said pointing to a dark fin jutting through the water.

"So now I have this nut chasing me in the water, sword raised, ready to kill me. I'm swimming for dear life... and then that is when I found out that sharks aren't nearly as harmless as some sailors would lead you to believe." said Arthur, wide eyed and staring into the distance.

"One appeared out of nowhere and took a chunk out of his side. So while he's struggling and fighting it, I'm swimming as fast as I can to an outcropping of rocks. I reached them, and and then as soon as I did, I turn around to see a shark making a beeline for me, jaws wide open." said Arthur, making a motion with his arm

"Somehow, I managed to react quickly enough to use my thunder tome on it. I sent the blast straight down its gullet. It was... extremely effective. Like, it was somehow so effective the thunder tome somehow managed to set it on FIRE. At least that's what it looked like to me. The point is, it was killed instantly, sending sparks flying and scaring away the other sharks (though not before they had finished off the other guy though). So seeing that it was safe I start heading for the shore. I eventually wash up on the beach, half dead, as I put my arm in front of me in order to pull myself up, I ended up putting my hand on something that feelt weird..."

Arthur looked up at the object he was touching... it was a human arm. He jolted away and backed away. He coughed as a wave splashed over him as a result, so he stood up quickly and looked around, nearly making himself faint from the sheer sudden nature of it all. The beach was covered in blood and body parts. He panicked and threw up. For minutes straight. After he calmed down, he looked up... to find Gawain staring at him and pointing a sword at him. "I should kill you right now for what you've done... but you've survived this long, and the child hunt is now over. Well done. Come with me, and you'll be made a noble of this land." he said.

Arthur spat on the ground "and what? Be a brainwashed puppet for the empire for the rest of my life? How about I just leave and go back to my own life?"

"You don't have that option. Either you come with me and take the opportunity that the empire has granted you, or I take this opportunity to avenge my brothers."

"Oh gods! What did I DO to you?!" thought Arthur. But what he said was "You will try." and then he used wind magic to throw Gawain to the ground while he did a half hobble, half run and tried to get away and move down the beach. Gawain kept coming, and so Arthur hit him even harder, knocking him into the water. But Gawain picked himself up and kept coming. So Arthur switched to a thunder tome. "Why won't you just leave me ALONE?!" he shouted, his eyes glowing blue, as did the lightning. For the second time that day, he was filled with wrath. He fired into the water at Gawain's feet, and Gawain was killed instantly.

Arthur stared at him for a moment, then he started to run for the forest. He finally reached the forest, and then saw Mordred waiting in the shadows.

"The emperor's brother and Duke Freege's sister." said Mordred.

"What!?" said Arthur surprised.

"You look like them. Were they your parents?" Mordred asked. Arthur kept silent... which told Mordred that he was right. "I have fulfilled my grudge against your parents, but now, I have a grudge against you. I could kill you right now... but that would make it all to easy. No... you need to suffer. I'll let you walk away for now. I won't follow you or track you... for now. But I will track you down again later, and I will make your life miserable. Remember my name. My name is Mordred, and I will be the one who ensures that your life will be filled with nothing good. Remember that now, remember that whenever something terrible happens, know Mordred is responsible. Now... get out of my sight."

"He kept his word." said Arthur, concluding his story. "I returned to where I cam from, but most of them did not believe that I had truly escaped. They mostly thought that I had abandoned my friends to their deaths. Mordred did find me again, on multiple occasions. The things he did... led the other children into isolating me, seeing me as an obvious imperial trick or trap."Arthur sighed and looked to the ground "After that, the only thing good I had left to hold on to was the hope that I could find my sister again."

Arthur looked Seliph in the eye. "It was thanks to Blume that I was ever in that situation to begin with. And I wasn't his only victim. He let thousands of children die in child hunt that he allowed. He deserved what I did to him and more. I don't regret my actions, and I don't want an apology for you 'not understanding' or 'not knowing' the severity of my situation. What I want from you is the promise that you will make sure that no child will ever again have to go through what I did! A war is no time to be showing mercy to the scum of the earth!" shouted Arthur angrily. Leif and Seliph looked away, but Fee kept looking at him, slightly shaking her head. Arthur looked back at her.

"What's with that reaction, Fee? Do you not believe me either? Do you think my lies are proof of a more sinister nature? Are you horrified by the revelation of the monster I am? Do you want to stop being my partner? FINE THEN! YOU'RE JUST LIKE THE OTHERS!" he shouted bitterly.

Eyes wet with tears, Fee shook her head and embraced him. "What? Why are you-" said a confused Arthur, voice cracking as he asked.

"How could I abandon you after hearing that story? You're the most human person I ever met. Before I was constantly confused and could never get you. Now I think I do. You're a good man who feels that he has to act cruelly for the sake of others, and because cruelty is all he can receive. It's not. You clearly deserve better than that, Arthur." she whispered in his ear.

Suddenly, tears were gently streaming down Arthur's cheeks as well.

Seliph opened the cell door. "You're free to go. And you're also officially invited." he added.

"To what?" asked Arthur.

"To the weddings." said Leif. "the northern peninsula except for Manster is ours, and... well, we have some things to celebrate."

Chapter Text

While there was still Manster and the country of Thracia to think of, there was now something to celebrate. Blume was dead and three couples in the liberation army had decided to tie the knot.

Ares and Leen had discussed it and while Ares had every intention of staying with her and no intention of dying... in war, it is hard to control these things. They had spent so long being alone, they decided that they might as well use this opening and tie the knot now, so that they could feel justified in spending as much time together as they possibly could.

A couple from Leif's army was having a somewhat similar discussion around the same time, and they overheard Ares's and Leen's discussion, so after speaking with them, decided to have their wedding at the same time. This couple was Brighton and Machyua. Brighton had been a prisoner of war for several months, and now that she had him back, Machyua wanted to keep him as close as possible. As they had previously helped to rescue Leif when he had been imprisoned in the early days of his own rebellion, he was more than happy to help them prepare.

The reason for the third wedding was... less pleasant or hopeful. Roddleven had ignored Ares's legitimate concerns, and he decided to jump onto the bandwagon and go through with his shotgun wedding with Mercy. He did not specify his exact reasons for this, but among those getting married, his relationship had been the shortest and least visible, so many did suspect his true motivation.

Hearing of all the people in the liberation army who wanted to get together, the people of Conote were more than willing to provide for the ceremony. They provided everything for free, including any nice outfits that were readily available. After all, it was a small price to pay for being freed from the tyranny of Blume, and they knew that they planned to go after the monsters in the Manster district immediately afterwards, so they had every reason to service them. With that motivation backing them, it was all set up surprisingly quickly.

Most were happy with the outfits and makeup and hair trimmings that they wound up with... but Larcei most certainly was not. Especially thanks to the reactions it got. It was a full-length dress (which for Larcei was a negative in of itself) that was either her size or half a size off. There were no dramatic cuts to the dress, and it didn't show too much skin but... to her dismay it did make public knowledge that her chest size was actually larger than her typical battle attire let on.

As she predicted and to her dismay, this did not go unnoticed. Delmund, Lana, Johan, Julia, Ulster, Lester, and Seliph were all standing together, talking about recent events, when Lester caught sight of Larcei from a distance, talking to someone, and choked on his drink. This got the others to follow his line of sight, and all of the boys' mouths dropped open.

Delmund whistled, Seliph said "OOH boy, she's going to have to put up with a lot of flirts tonight."

Ulster said "Wait... she's my sister, how'd I not know about that?!"

"So, that's what she looks like in a dress... I kind of like it. She cleans up nicely." said Johan

"She's very pretty." agreed Julia,

and Lana rolled her eyes as Lester stammered "Since when... how'd she disguise that they were that big?! Wouldn't we have known"

"Oh, yea, Larcei binds her chest. Like, really tightly. Whoever gave her that dress probably wouldn't let her do that for this." said Delmund with folded arms. Everyone stared at him.

"Yes... she does. But how do YOU know that, Delmund?" asked Lana.

"How about how do YOU know about that, Hmmm? Cause we seem to be the only ones in the know. Is there some juicy secret going on between you two?" Delmund asked with a smug grin on his face.

Lana glared at him. She lifted one hand, and started tallying her fingers as she said "I'm a girl, who grew up with her, who had to be her roommate for a time, and I consider her my closest female friend, despite our VERY different personalities. There, I have an excuse. How do YOU know about that, Delmund?"

"Closest female friend? Ooh, are you-"

"Delmund...shut the Hell up. Quit using innuendos in a half-assed attempt at dodging the subject and explain yourself." said an annoyed Seliph, arms folded.

"Ooh, our glorious leader is using dirty words now. And here I thought that you were to pure for that! Next thing you know-"

"Delmund, stop stalling and explain why you know such a private secret about my sister and I swear I'll slit your mouth open." said Ulster harshly.

"Don't you mean OR you'll slash my mouth open?" asked Delmund.

"Fine. OR I'll slash your mouth open."

"Fine? That sounds like an important distinction to-" Ulster raised his sword, and several others at the table began to raise their weapons. Delmund finally got the hint "...Fine. Lester, do you remember that big prank we pulled together about three years ago?" he asked, turning towards the person in question.

"...which prank?" asked Lester.

"The one with the bucket, the chickens, the door, the cream and-"

"-the headband? Yea, I remember that." said Lester. "We got punished big time for that one."

"Well, back then, she actually wore headbands, so I went to steal a headband from her room... and I walked in on her just as she was in the middle of getting dressed and discovered that for myself... she's never forgiven me for that." said Delmund.

"...that explains a lot." muttered everyone but Ulster.

"Ummm, yea, I'm calling BS on that explanation." said Ulster.

"and why is that?" asked Delmund

"Well for starters, there's the fact that you are still alive and have no permanent injuries." sniggers resounded across the table. "Second of all, if she did, in fact, decide to let you live after all, you wouldn't have let you off the hook. Yet you were able to stand while you were being punished, and nobody was warned or given a hint about what you were about to do ahead of time." explained Ulster.

At this time, Larcei finally arriving to where they were standing. All was quiet for about six seconds, then Larcei said. "You were all talking about my dress and how it reveals that I have a much larger chest size than you thought. Weren't you?" the silence was resounding. "Yea, I thought so. The serving ladies here gave me this outfit, made me take of my binding in order to 'properly fit it', and then insisted that I wear it like this, without the bindings. They made it so that it couldn't turn them down. Both with the way they begged... AAANNND with the way that they hid my normal outfit and all of my bindings, and told me they wouldn't return them until the ceremony is done." everyone was trying to hold back their laughter at this point.

"Yea... their justification was that it was 'for my own good' and 'I wouldn't regret it if I picked up a nice fella.' and whatnot." she sighed, exasperated. "Why is it that everyone, even other women, thinks that a girl MUST have a man in her life. I mean, if I'm honest, I think I would be fine with settling down if I found THE perfect guy. I mean, I have impossible standards so it's never going to happen, but still, either way, why automatically assume... anyways, that's why I look like I'm searching for a quick hookup."

"Larcei, please don't talk like that. Your body is not any more exposed than it usually is." said Lana.

"Sure, that's why all the boys I've known for years and never had any romantic interest in me are staring at me like I'm a brand new girl they've never seen before, and would like to get to know." said Larcei dryly. Ulster had been looking at the ceiling for a while, and Seliph and Lester quickly joined him upon that statement being made.

Johan just folded his arms and said "Ummm... you already knew that I was already into you. I already think you're the most beautiful woman in the world so this revelation... doesn't actually change a thing for me. I apologize if that upsets you."

Larcei shrugged "At least you're honest about it, respect my boundaries, and aren't acting like a creep, like this asshole over here." she said, jerking her thumb at Delmund.

Delmund smirked and said "And What if I am interested in you sugar-plumb?"

"Then you're a masochist." said Larcei, pointing a fork at him. They didn't have enough time to get into a proper altercation before the ceremony began.

After the ceremony was over, people gathered at tables to eat. Not wanting to deal with boys coming to the girls' table to flirt, Larcei chose to sit with the boys that she already knew... and Faval. He whistled and then said "Hey good looking, you fancy dancing?"

Larcei gave him a mock smile "Hey philanderer, fancy being stabbed?" she said while pointing her silver sword directly at his face. Faval left her alone after that. An hour passed, and then Leif noticed that all of the newlyweds seemed to have disappeared. "Where did they go?" he questioned.

"The wedding just finished, where do you think that they went." remarked Larcei. Everyone stopped what they were doing momentarily before Leif said, turning bright red "Wait, are you suggesting that-"

"What else could they possibly be doing. Leen is probably showing Ares a 'special dance' and the other two couples are going through something similar. Well, maybe not Mercy, cause let's face it, the reason THOSE two are getting married is because they are already facing the consequences of that sort of thing." she snorted "you boys are all obsessive and possessive about the girl you like. You're all likely to throw her into a bed the first chance you get."

Seliph facepalmed. "Larcei, that is a very unfair generalization and you know it. And no, that's not what they are doing, they-"

"Are you sure? How much are you willing to bet that, when you get married you won't be able to keep to yourself until the day AFTER your wedding?" asked Larcei, arms folded.

"10,000 gold." said Delmund.

Larcei looked at him and said "Well, considering that you are never going to get married and thus, neither of us is going to lose money in this scenario, that's kind of a stupid bet. But I'll take you on anyways."

"Wait, are we really making bets on this? Seriously? Fine, I bet the same." said Lester.

Leif shrugged "Eh, might as well. I can buy her a nice gift with that money. I'm in."

Larcei looked at Faval "Eh, no. There was an... incident in the past that makes me think that taking this bet not be a good use of my money." he said.

Larcei just raised an eyebrow and said "Why am I not surprised? Like, at all?"

She then looked at every other boy at the table and they all agreed to it... except for Seliph. "Absolutely not." he declared angrily, arms folded and with an annoyed tone in his voice.

"OOH, Seliph! Planning on something naughty, are we?" said Faval. "This just got interesting."

"I plan nothing of the sort. I just refuse to taking such a dumb bet. Seriously, is this 'turn into an angry idiot' day, or something" said Seliph.

"And why, pray tell, are you refusing with such conviction?" asked Larcei.

"Because this bet is completely unnecessary and crude." said Seliph. "Besides, when you love someone enough to marry them, how you treat them on that day should have nothing to do with a bet. On the night of their wedding, a groom should let the bride decide what they are going to do, and go along with it. We live in a world dominated by men, so in my opinion, it's only fair that the girls should get at least one day of absolute authority. That's how I see a wedding night anyways. Isn't a wedding often called a girl's best day, or something like that, anyways? I would think that you of all people would agree with me there, Larcei."

"Besides, you're all making this bet now, in the middle of a war. How do you know that you'll live long enough to claim the earnings? After all, Firinne did say at least two of us are going to die. Even if you live, how do you know that you won't completely forget about it as soon as something more important comes up?" Everyone else was silent, but Seliph wasn't done yet.

"Even if you DO remember this bet, chances are that you are going to forget to tell the most important person about it. The girl that you are going to marry. You're going to forget to tell her, and it's going to be your wedding day, and she'll be all excited to finally have you to herself... only for you to pretty much completely ignore her in an effort to win the bet. How do you think that will make her feel? How do you think she'll react when she sees you go to Larcei to claim the bet money, and therefore find out about it that way? She'll be furious at you for taking the bet, and FURIOUS at you for initiating it." he finished, pointing at Larcei.

"...he's got a point... but, money is money and I'm still going to take the bet for now. We all probably are going to forget anyways." said Lester, and all the other boys responded that yes, they were all still going to take the bet.

"You guys are all impossible." muttered Seliph.

"Why are you so up in arms about this if you don't plan on getting married anytime soon?" asked Delmund "Or maybe you're all upset because you know you'll never get married because your interests don't lie in a girl..."

When he heard that, Seliph threw his cup in Delmund's face and stormed off... but not before he called Delmund a name the others were shocked to hear coming out of his mouth.

"That was completely uncalled for on your part." Lester told Delmund.

"Is Seliph normally like this?" asked Leif.

"Not at all, something must be really bothering him for him to behave like this." said Ulster.

"I'm going to go talk to him." said Leif. Getting up from the table and walking out... passing a returning Leen and Ares on the way.

The reason all the newlyweds had disappeared was because a local painter had asked if he could making paintings of all the newlyweds, and he had just finished his establishing sketch of Leen and Ares, and was now working on Brighton and Machyua.

Leif found Seliph out on the battlements, looking at the evening sky. "Is there something bothering you? If its got something to do with the army, I could probably relate." said Leif.

Seliph looked at Leif silently for a couple of seconds, then he made a motion indicating that he should stand next to him. He was silent for a couple more moments before he said. "It's more along the lines that this wedding thing built on the stress of having an important prisoner mercilessly killed by one of my own men unexpectedly. Though honestly? Though if I have to be honest... I think for whatever reason, I'm the most bothered by the fact that this wedding is even happening right now."

"Oh, have you fallen in love? Is that it? The wedding has brought to the surface your concerns about-"

"I... I can't fall in love." said Seliph sadly. "The circumstances won't allow me. The responsibilities underlying an army such as this-"

"That doesn't matter!" interrupted Leif "Falling in love is nothing you can choose or give a proper timing! You-"

Seliph put up his hand "I know Leif, I know that you can't control falling in love or pining for someone, but... but take a look at things from my perspective. I am leading a relatively small, insurgent army against a vast, continent wide empire that took a handful of years to build, with probably decades of planning put into it. This was an empire that was built on the ashes of my father." he said those words with a clenched fist.

"My parents lost each other forever when I was only a few months old, a small pool of gold and a traumatized Shanan being the only things left behind from her. Their friends and their families? While I've had some of them stand by my side, for the most part, they were scattered to the winds." he said, raking up some grime with his hand and then, brushing it off, letting it blow into the wind, in an attempt to emphasize his point.

"And here I stand, trying to succeed where they failed... but what if I don't? What if I can't? Sure right now it's sweet to see some couples coming together, but... what will happen to them if we fail? Sure, there is a chance that they'll both survive and stay together for years afterwards... but those are slim chances. Plus, remember what Firinne said, if he wasn't lying or exaggerating, major casualties are guaranteed sooner rather than later. We have to think of the possibility that the casualties may count among them. That they will ultimately fail to find happiness. And if we continue down that negative train of thought, and predict the worse possible scenario because of this, then it does not look very good for me. If we fail... I am a dead man. The stakes are higher for me here than they are for anyone else." said Seliph, staring off into the horizon. He gripped the ledge firmly with his hands, but... his hands were shaking.

"If I had a wife... if I had a child... if we failed, I would be leaving them to repeat the cycle, to go down the same path that led us here. A cycle of repeating fate. Mrs. Adean, Shanan, Oifey... they all tried to hide their suffering, but I could see it. If we fail, someone sharing Shanan and Oifey's fate is practically inevitable, but Mrs. Adean... I cannot, in good conscience, leave anyone that I love so much to suffer such a cursed fate. There cannot be a cycle. This all has to end with me. So that is why I can't get married, at least not while this war is going on. Not even if I love someone dearly and so very want to." he said, turning to look at Leif.

"The people who I am saving... and the people I work with... aren't making that easy for me. Even in the beginning I've had village elders trying to give me their granddaughters in marriage, even though that is the last thing I want. Why doesn't anyone understand" he shouted, utterly frustrated, looking and sounding like he was about to shed tears.

"Do you know that you are already in love with someone, and that is just adding to your anxiety?" asked Leif.

Seliph looked hesitant for a moment, but then he nodded slightly. "I... I think so. I'm not completely certain, but I think so."

"Is it Julia?"

Seliph shook his head. "No. Julia is a sweet girl and all, but I'm not interested in her at all romantically. The very idea of being romantically involved with her, to me... in of itself it feels... wrong... somehow. No, the truth of the matter is... I'm pretty sure that I've had my eye on Lana for a couple of years now."

"Lana? The healer girl you grew up with?" asked Leif.

"Don't act like that's so shocking. After all, I've seen how you look at the healer girl YOU grew up with. You're probably thinking along similar lines, but you have either confronted it, or haven't had time to confront it. Given your attempts at advice, I'm going to guess that you've already confronted your feelings."

"Actually, I'm still trying to decide whether those looks we share are platonic or romantic. I'm 90% certain they are romantic." muttered Leif.

"But like I said, I can't put her through all of that." said Seliph "especially since... well, she's Mrs. Adean's daughter, practically the living epitome of my fears. So... I can't confront my feelings, romantic or not. No, I'd better let her stay ignorant and take the better option."

"Better option?" asked Leif.

"Ulster. I know that he feels the same way about her as I do. While I feel like I should be jealous... I'm hoping that he'll win her over and provide her with a happiness that I, myself may not be able to provide."

"If she gets either of you... remember what Firinne said." said Leif.

Seliph looked horrified. "Please don't mention that or suggest that, especially with the retaking of the Manster District on the horizon."


Chapter Text

"Would you mind telling me just what the hell your plan was? You just cost an important ally and location!" commander Mort yelled at Skaro.

"To test the effectivity of my new berserker staffs. What happened out there may not have seemed like much to you, but to me... it was informative. I now know some of the limitations of the staffs, and with a few alterations, I can bring them closer to perfection. That battle was an important step loss or not. It never actually mattered whether we actually won that fight or not. It's about clearing the board, and playing the long game, in order to enact the perfect mind game." replied Skaro calmly.

"So, what, to you this vital mission was just a chance to try out your new toy and not a mission to rescue a vital ally?" asked Mort vehemently.

"That is correct. Blume was not that important in the long run, he has served his purpose. Now... we can let this Liberation Army enjoy their... victory, while I work on perfecting my work."

"And what good, may I ask, will your work do us?" spat out Mort.

"It will allow for us to engage in mental warfare, the perfect accompaniment to proper warfare. Their allies suddenly going crazy, then suddenly turning back to normal... and then going crazy again as soon as they think the threat is over." Skaro grinned malevolently "Can you imagine? If I play it right, I could create a berserk staff that would create the ultimate unpredictable element. If utilized properly, this staff could break their fighting spirit. Heh, it'll be fun to try it on him." chuckled Skaro. Suddenly, he found himself coughing up black fluid. He looked at Mort to see that he had just used Jormung on him.

"I should've known that's what you were going to turn this into. Your petty, sadistic revenge scheme and mental shit instead of your actual GODDAMN JOB! I KNEW that I shouldn't have let you come with me!" shouted Mort.

He walked up to Skaro, he knelt down next to him and said, "Now listen here and listen good. I don't care about your petty grudges, and I don't care for your sadism. All I care about... is putting our enemies in their place. If you think for a moment that I'll let you use the pride of Loptyr for your own twisted games, then you are utterly insane." he said, getting up, and backing away slowly, staring at Skaro the whole time.

"...Insane?" said Skaro, as he grinned and wiped the fluids away. "Yes... Yes I am. I am insane, I am as mad as water is wet, as the sky is blue, and as you are DEAD." glowing, purple twin knives materialized in his hands, which he promptly launched at Mort. They both stuck into the sides of his chest. As Mort grasped at them, chains materialized around the hilts, leading to Skaro's hands. He cracked them like a whip, then yanked them back. Mort went flying... right into Skaro's open palm. The blades and chains disappeared in an instant. As Skaro's fingers dug into Mort's skull, purple smoke began to billow out. As Mort cried out in pain, Skaro merely dug in deeper until his hand was INSIDE of his head.

Skaro looked back at the rest of the troops. "The archbishop sent me here for a reason. Now... since I am blatantly the one in charge now, you will all listen to and obey my every order. No matter what certain... others, might say." he said looking at Mort... before tearing his head free from his body. "Any objections?" he asked, waving the severed head, still attached to his fingers. There were no objections. So Skaro made the head explode, as if to emphasize his point, and then gave the order to move out. Skaro grinned maliciously "I wonder if they'd be so ready to obey if they realized they were to be sacrificed for the sake of my real plan anyways." he thought.

King Travant had been keeping a close eye on the ongoing conflict taking place in the northern half of the peninsula. Thus, the report on Blume's defeat reached him in less than a week. Travant was ecstatic. "At last! At long, long last! We can finally claim what is rightfully ours!" turning to his (unknown to her) adoptive daughter, he began to bark out orders. "Altena! I want you to take a squad of dragon knights and attack the city of Manster immediately. While you are at it, have some of them branch off and attack Alster as well. That should hold this... Liberation Army's attention and give us the chance to gain a proper foothold. The foothold we should've had long ago if it weren't for Blume."

Altena stared at him. Travant noticed but ignored it. "It is time that we fulfilled our destiny, and unified this peninsula. Let nothing stand in your way, Altena. Men, women, children; I don't care, kill them all, but I want those cities now!"

Altena was taken aback by the unusually cruel orders that she had just been given. She began to protest. "Father! You can't truly mean to-"

"Are you questioning me girl? I just gave you a clear and direct order. I expect for you to follow through on it!" said Travant harshly.


"It's best that you don't argue with him, Altena." said Travant's birth son, Areone stepping in to halt the argument. "You do not yet fully understand what is at stake here. Just do what you are told. If not for father's sake, do it for my sake, and your own. If you will not do it for his sake or the sake of your country."

Altena paled and straightened... "Y-yes Areone. I... I'll do it immediately." she said, turning about swiftly to prepare.

After she left, Travant began to mutter "...Stubborn girl. She's just like her parents. I had hoped that I had wrung that kind of behavior out of her."

"Her parents? Father, are you saying-"

"Please don't tell me that you are as naive as she is, Areone! Even she should have recognized the blindingly obvious fact that as my child, she shouldn't be able to wield the weapon of our enemy's house!" said Travant, sounding slightly annoyed.

"...I have long suspected and believed it, but I've never had any definitive proof." said Areone after a momentary pause.

"Re-evaluating your entire relationship with her, are you boy?" Travant asked, eyebrow raised.

"Father? What are you impl-NO! Father! You know that I am engaged to-"

"To a woman that you don't even want, and who doesn't want you." said Travant bluntly. "Oh don't look so shocked. I'm as good at reading people as I am killing them. You think that you hid it well, but I know the truth. You only got engaged to avoid accusations of having an incestuous relationship with her. I can understand understand your reasonings. The Nordions ran into this kind of problem between the two half-siblings in my generation." said Travant, waving him off.

"King Eldigan did something similar. He married a woman from Leonster even though practically everyone knew that he and his sister had a thing for one another. You're simply trying to pull the same thing, except you're handling it a bit better. Frankly Areone I don't care. Exile her, screw her, whatever, you're going to have to make your own decisions as the king of Thracia. Enough people ARE aware of the fact that she isn't actually my daughter that they can cover your ass." said, Travant, deliberately trying to make his son feel embarrassed so that he would shut up.

"As for the girl herself, well, I can't say that I'm good at judging the finer points on women, but that still doesn't prevent me from wondering what you see in that girl. How do you put up with her stubborn... stubborn, that reminds me, I'd better give the commander his counter-orders."

"C-counter orders, father?" stammered a vert off-put Areone.

Travant rolled his eyes. "Oh please, we both know that she isn't going to go through with what I ordered her to do. She's to green and honorable to follow through."

"That should be all of them. I leave their fate in your capable hands, Saias." said Ced, the renegade prince of Silesse.

"All of my efforts shall be put dedicated to keeping them safe and sound. But for how long I'll actually be able to do that... is something I don't know. Imperial forces and, more worryingly, Loptyrians are everywhere these days." said Saias

"It should actually be quite the simple task for you to keep them safe while you seek shelter for them. At least, if the reports are true." responded Ced.

"Reports? asked Saias.

"I have just received word that King Blume was killed in a battle against the liberation army at Conote. Logically, and assuming their good will, they shall be heading here next. Actually, they've already sent messengers our way, and their messengers have promised us that much. For all we know, they could be halfway here already, if so, it won't be long before you reach safe harbor. The Liberation Army will be more than willing to take these civilians under their protection." explained Ced.

"That's... wonderful news." said Saias, cautiously.

"Is there a problem, bishop?"

"Not a problem... per se, however I do not... hold any particular love for the rebels. I've even clashed with them more than once due to my... standing. I am not sure that the rebel leaders will be very... thrilled, by my presence." explained Saias.

Ced looked confused for a moment, but then an expression of understanding washed across his face. "Ah, yes. You're rumored familial connections... well, I don't hold it against you, and I do not believe that they'll make a big deal out of it, unless you draw attention to it. In fact, I think that most likely, they'll be absolutely pleasant with you as long as you display no hostility."

"Then I will give them no elaboration on myself. I do not like to be perceived as what the rumors claim that I am. I would much prefer to simply be seen as a good man who did what was right." said Saias, looking like he was about to leave, but then he turned around and said "What about you sir?"

Ced looked a little surprised by the question, but responded. "Me? Well, I am proud of my heritage (my father being the sole exception). But I am not particularly fond of the labels the common folk have given me. Many call me a hero, and many of those same people see me as the rebirth of the crusader I am named for, and still others see me as the embodiment of the god Forsetti himself. Well, I'm definitely not a god, and I'm no hero. I'm just a man with a powerful gift. A gift I use to give the common people a life worth living." Ced explained.

Silence reigned for a few moments, and then Saias said, "Actually sir, I was asking about what you'll be doing while I bring these refugees to safety. Not about your opinion of the stories people tell about you."

"Oh... that umm... right that makes more sense. I...I didn't tell you? I intend to deliver Manster right into the hands of the princes. An easy victory should be good for them after the trials that brought rhem here. Prince Leif will likely be especially appreciative. I've both seen first hand and heard second hand reports of what he's been through."

"With anyone else, I'd question whether they could actually take a city single-handedly, but I believe you, out of all people can do that. However... what if you take the city, only to have Thracia attack you immediately afterwards?" asked Saias

"First of all, I'm not alone. I have Hawk and the others backing me up. Second of all...Dragon knights have two primary weaknesses. Arrows... and wind magic." as Ced said the later, his eyes glowed green and the winds around them seemed to pick up in speed. "I will be fine." he concluded.

"So, Lewyn. We've taken down Blume. What do you suggest for our next plan of attack?" asked Seliph.

"The people of Manster have sent us a request for aid. I've already promised our timely arrival. Allow me to warn you now, the political influence there is... different. While the Freege family had primary control of most of the city states in this region, Manster was essentially an exception. The cult of Loptyr wields a strong hold over the city, stronger than anywhere else branching in this direction of Yied. It's in no small part because of their alliance with Duke Raydrik." The utterance of that name caused a growl to come from Leif's general direction.

"Tell the soldiers that if we capture him, the killing blow is mine." said Leif sternly.

Seliph was a bit surprised by this reaction. "You didn't act this way regarding Blume." he remarked.

"My grudge against Blume did not feel quite as... personal. To me. Raydrik betrayed my grandfather, leading to his death and the fall of my homeland. He later took the two girls I saw as sisters prisoner, threatened Nanna's life in order to take me prisoner, then aided in having the woman I saw as a mother turned to stone. I don't care if he's on death's door by the time I reach him, I'm finishing him off!" Leif exclaimed.

"As long as my son doesn't get to him first, we'll try to grant you that opportunity." responded Lewyn. "From what I've heard, he's in the region, looking to liberate the city by himself."

"Oh, well, if HE does it for me, then I won't minds as much. He saved me from Raydrik once before. I already owe him much for that." said Leif, calming down instantaneously. "You must be proud, sir. To have such a hero for a son."

"A hero? I think he's a damn fool! He has no business leaving Silesse unruled, galavanting around other nations, altruistic intentions be DAMNED!"

This response took the boys by surprise. Seliph was the first to comment. "But Lewyn, didn't you do something similar when you were around his age?" he asked

"Yes, I did, and I hoped that he wouldn't make the same bull-headed decision that I did. I acted rashly, and him running away from home in order to act like me was the absolute last thing that I wanted for him." declared Lewyn, then he sighed. "Well, I suppose it is too late for anything to be done about it now. Might as well accept it and the storm that will come once he sees me. Let's hope that we'll get to him before he's overwhelmed by dragon knights." said Lewyn.

"Dragon knights?" asked Seliph.

"King Travant's sure to attack now that Blume is gone. He might even try to strike Alster while he's at it as well, so you might want to make sure you have some people defending it."

"Then we'll send some reinforcements back to Alster. Maybe have our pegasus knights ferry them, then have them patrol the area watching for dragon knights. Maybe they could lure the dragons back towards our main force so we can swarm them." suggested Seliph.

"That sounds like a solid plan. What about our ground forces?" asked Lewyn.

"We'll let the newlyweds sleep in, but once they are up, we'll start moving towards Manster."

"Go, make sure it gets done." said Lewyn.

Chapter Text

"You're an amazing swordswoman, Mareeta. This match ended in a draw, I'm willing to admit that. I assure you, that's something I almost never confess." said Larcei.

"I... thank you, but I merely got lucky this time. I'm nowhere your level, or the level of my mother." said Mareeta.

"Why, then she must be the finest swordswoman in all of Thracia!" cried Larcei. "You are extremely talented in handling a sword. You defeated my brother in your match against him, that I swear that you were performing Astra! Actually... maybe you did. I can tell that you are of Isaacian origin just by looking at you. Maybe there is a chance that we are actually related? I know it's a big country but... I don't believe in coincidences. That could definitely explain how you made my brother look like a trainee!"

Upon hearing those words uttered, Ulster couldn't bear to listen any more. He walked away in despair. Julia had been watching the match, and she saw the look of utter despondency on his face as he passed, and she went after him in order to ask what the problem was. She had a strong suspicion based upon what had been said.

He was reluctant to answer at first, but finally he said "I'm nothing important."

"Well if it was really something that wasn't important, then it wouldn't be bothering you. So tell me-" Ulster interrupted her.

"I didn't say IT'S nothing important. I said I'M nothing important. I'm a redundancy!" he shouted, slamming his fist against the wall. His voice cracking, he proclaimed "Every other sword fighter we have seems to be better than me. EVERY. LAST. ONE!"

"Ulster, surely that can't be true, you're probably just looking at the ones with more training or those who have more skill do to holy blood, or..."

Ulster shook his head "I used to think about it that way. Whenever I felt weak, I'd just do a comparison and weigh the variables that could affect my swordplay in comparison to theirs. It was surprisingly effective for me. But now? Now I just got beaten by a random girl that I've never met before in mere seconds flat! SECONDS, Julia! That was on top of Delmund challenging me to a match a beating me too! Delmund! The kid I grew up with who's never been good at anything except for being a professional asshole!" he sighed, leaned back, and put his fingers over his eyes.

"Larcei is no help at all in this department. She is so overly concerned with being right, that she cannot see her flaws. She's overly violent, she's... what's the word for a man-hater? This extends to our dad. Sure, he's openly something of a crook, but he's never been a jerk, and while he wasn't around as much as he probably should have he was at least in our life, yet Larcei seems determined to hate him and not speak of him. We never knew our mom, all we know is the stories that Shanan told us. How does she know that those stories weren't exaggerated or told through rose-colored glasses? She was his beloved aunt and he was a kid at the time, but no, she has to insist on... but I'm going on a tangent, aren't I?" he said, pausing. Julia tried to tell him that she didn't mind, but he had already decided he wasn't going to continue the thought.

He shook his head and said. "The point is, Larcei has flaws, one of them is that she doesn't recognize that her words hurt and that she's disparaging everyone around her for the sake for... I don't know the big girls in her life? Even ones she just met. I mean, sure, Larcei thinks that that girl might have holy blood, and we know Delmund does, but all in all, that makes me our weakest sword fighter with holy blood. And before you bring up Patty, she doesn't count. So don't try to comfort me with me 'being better than Patty'. Please."

"Well, even then, you're still a step above most of our soldiers." said Julia.

"But I'm not supposed to be!" shouted Ulster. "I'm supposed to be important! I'm supposed to be someone that people look up to! Yet I am completely insignificant!"

"You're significant to me." said Julia, smiling sweetly.

Ulster froze, and then he embraced her. "What would I do without you?" he asked.

Ulster wasn't the only one who was suddenly feeling less useful. Faval and his Yewfelle had been quick to put Lester's skill with the bow to shame. "It... I Get the impression that I could be putting all of my effort into a shot... you know, line it up carefully, check all the variables and then hit the target and only barely make it... while in the meantime, he could make the same shot while smooching a girl while firing with his non-dominant hand without even looking." he explained to Laylea.

"Surely he can't be THAT good. Maybe it just seems that way to you because he's new and he has your family's holy weapon. In fact, he might not really be all that good. Don't you think that a holy weapon might have some sort of... I don't know, special connection to the gods? and that they might be compensating for any errors that he might make? Who knows, without that bow of his to compensate for him, you might be just as good or even better than he is with a bow, especially since you're used to working harder in order to make each shot." suggested Laylea.

Lester straightened up. "I... never thought of that! I might never have thought of that if you hadn't brought it up! Laylea, you're amazing. How can I ever repay you?" Lester asked, holding her hands.

"You already have." said Laylea smiling.

"Still... while that does make me feel better about myself in comparison to him, it doesn't make me feel any better about him." said Lester, turning back to his drink. "I know a womanizer when I see one, and the way he reacted when he saw Lana... doesn't make me want to let him anywhere near her."

"Good for you. I was going to suggest the same thing." said Patty materializing in a chair beside them. "I wouldn't let my brother go anywhere near cousin Lana. He'll make a move the first chance he gets."

Then into her own drink, she then darkly muttered "philandering cad, ruined my opinion regarding all men for years. Only now do I realize that not all guys want to sleep around..."

"That's a... harsh thing to say about your own brother." said Laylea. "May I ask, what did he do to earn your scorn like that?"

Patty paused for poise, and then she said "Once he signed up for a multi-person job. It was to be me, him, and a mercenary girl that we had just met. The morning that we were supposed to leave on the job, I walked into Faval's room to wake him up... only to find the two of them in bed together, blatantly trying to hide what they had been doing, spouting a million excuses. After that, I actually began to notice that he had a tendency to flirt with every girl he saw. That's what it took for me to realize that he wasn't into mercenary work only for the money. It soured my opinion on a kind of work that already left a bad taste in my mouth due to the potential for abuse and victimizing innocents. That's why I took up thieving. No flirting or killing involved." sincerely not recognizing any irony in her statement.

"Really? Because I would think that you would flirt with a guy so that he wouldn't notice when you steal his coin purse." said Lester

Patty turned red "I... I rarely do that... besides, that's different, because I don't actually mean it."

"So, Lester, this all just proves to me that you are definitely better than Faval at least one thing." said Laylea.

"And that would be..."

"Self-control. Maintaining proper respect for women."

"So, we are reducing ourselves to making comparisons with everyone else, are we?" said Ares, walking in with Leen on his arm. "Well, if we are doing that, I'll say that I'm in the best relationship." Leen blushed at that comment.

"Well someone is looking a bit more cheerful than normal. I take it that you had a good night's sleep?" remarked Lester.

"Yes." said Ares "but that is besides the point. People are in the hallways having casual conversations, no one came to wake us up so... are we getting some extra time before we have to go back to war? Do we not have any plans for now because we don't know where to go next?" he asked.

"Wow, you changed subjects quickly. But yes, the plan was wait for everyone to get up on their own, let everyone eat breakfast, then we will head straight for Manster. You're the first newlyweds up, so you have time to spare. Those who are up already are out sparring down the hall." said Lester.

"Alright, very good then. Shall we go to the dining hall milady?" said Ares, turning to Leen.

She smiled at that nickname. "Yes, let's go."

They proceeded down the hallway, but not before Ares stopped and said, "Oh, and Lester, and if your previous conversation was about you being insignificant in comparison to some of the new arrivals, don't worry about it. You, Seliph, Ulster, Larcei, Lana, Delmund, Oifey, and Shanan are all crucial to this effort. You started this all, all of you are vital parts of this army. You are our pillars of support. It matters not if someone better comes along later, they can't take that away from you." he said, and then proceeded walking.

"Ares." Lester called after him. "Thanks."

Ced was a hurricane given human form. With the Forsetti tome in hand, he controlled the winds, no to simply state that it was only the winds under his control would be to misspeak. The very air itself bent itself to his will, rendering him an unstoppable force. As he went down the city streets, an archer shot an arrow at him. He saw it coming and stopped the arrow in midair and launched it right back, causing it to lodge itself in the archer's eye, blunt side first. He couldn't do this to every archer, of course, but it was a simple matter to use the winds to redirect any arrow he detected away from his body.

A brawny axe-wielder came after him next, Ced used the winds to propel himself forward like a rocket, and he delivered a devastating blow to the solar plexus, then used the wind enhanced strength to force the man to slay himself with his own axe. A swordsman leapt at him, but Ced used the winds to launch him above the highest roofs. With the winds by his side, it was almost as if he had super-speed, able to outmaneuver even other tome users.

He was devastating the imperial troops as he went down the city streets. However, he did not let this get to his head. He knew that his enemies would soon attempt to turn the tables on him. He was correct in this assumption. He saw Alfan, a local Loptyrian bishop using his magic on some gathered civilians. Moving quickly, Ced killed his followers leaving the two of them in a face off. Alfan held a civilian in front of himself as a shield as he asked "Who ARE you?" he cried sounding a bit awed despite himself.

"I am Ced. Leader of the Magi. We have taken this city. Only the castle remains under your control. You won't be getting back there." declared Ced indicating a shattered Rewarp staff. "Let the man go, and surrender now, and you may keep your life."

" think that you scare me? I've heard the nonsense that the people have spouted about you. They say that you can control the very air that we breath, and that you can use it to care for or slay each and every life you encounter. Well, can you restore the air to this man's lungs?" asked Alfan, who sent a tendril of dark magic down the young man's throat.

Leaping into action, Ced used the winds to seize Alfan and suspend him in midair. Then he poured air down the young man's throat and pulled the dark, convulsing mass out. The young man spat it out like he had just been saved from drowning.

Then Ced, eyes glowing green and voice booming proclaimed. "Every breath we take is a gift from the gods. You have abused those gifts one time to many, and now the gods shall take the rest of yours and give them to someone more deserving." Ced then proceeded to tear the air from Alfan's lungs and replaced it with the black mass, and poured the air into the young man's lungs. He then proceeded to throw Alfan to the side. He disintegrated on impact. Ced payed this no mind in order to make sure that Alfan's victims survived. However, he could hardly concentrate over the thunderous applause.

The Liberation Army was soon on its way, but not before Larcei challenged her brother to a sparring match. Blow for blow they exchanged. At one point, they even used Astra simultaneously, and neither were hurt by this exchange. Finally, they got into a blade lock. Ulster noticed that Larcei's grip was a bit loose, so he leaned closer and used his sword and body weight in order to send Larcei's sword flying. Ulster was grinning from ear to ear as he pointed his blade at his sister. "This match is mine, Larcei."

Larcei breathed out heavily. "So it is. Good work. Don't expect it to happen again." she said as she picked up her sword and walked off.

Once she was out of Ulster's line of sight, Julia came up to her and whispered "Thank you." into her ear.

"No problem. If Ulster's spirits are down, then I am perfectly willing to help boost them. Remember, he's not just your boyfriend, he's my twin. I have a vested interest in his wellbeing."

This comment made Julia blush. "Larcei, we aren't in a relationship. We're just friends. Like..."

"Like me and Johan?" asked Larcei.

"I think you're supposed to say 'Johan and I', but I suppose it's a fitting comparison. Except I'm not hostile... oh, sorry, I didn't mean to-"

Larcei put up a hand whilst grinning. "It's ok. I understand perfectly well what you meant. No offense taken. Now, you might want to make certain you've got all your stuff ready. We'll be leaving momentarily."

As Julia left, Larcei thought to herself "Like Johan and I but less hostile', heh, do you even realize the meaning behind what you just said, Julia? in other words, you are both open to being together, but are just putting any thoughts of getting together to the side for now due to personal reasons." she couldn't help but smirk at the thought. "Heh, It'll be fun having you for a sister in law, Julia."

They had almost reached Manster when they ran into the refugees. The citizens were ecstatic. Leif asked if they had help getting out of the city. They said yes, and pointed him towards Saias. "A bishop?" he asked. The refugees nodded. So Leif walked up to him. "You led them to safety?" he asked.

"Yes, Lord Ced of the Magi asked me to evacuate them. Thank you for coming to our aid." said Saias.

"No, it's you who should be thanked. But... I think you should still do yourself a favor and find a safe place to hide. The empire won't be happy over loosing them." Leif pontificated.

"Very well, but first... are you Prince Leif?"

"Yes, I am. How did you know?"

"An educated guess. In any case, take this." with that, Saias pulled out a sword. "This is the Blade of Blagi. It is the only weapon that can defeat the one who wields the Blade of Loptyr, in this case, Raydrik."

Leif tilted his head "Are you sure about that? Because we have a couple of holy weapons with us..."

"They could maybe hurt him a little, but the thing is, apparently the blade of Loptyr is actually made from one of Loptyr's fangs. Unless you have the Tyrfing or the book of Naga, you aren't going to do much damage. THIS sword, however, is actually made from one of NAGA's fangs, so it should be able to counter the Blade of Loptyr's defensive capabilities."

Leif stared at the sword. "That sounds like... like quite the mighty weapon. But why give it to me specifically?"

"This sword can only be used by one who is the crusader's bloodline. Lord Ced found it on his travels, and he gave it to me just as I was leaving. Actually, he almost forgot to give it to me at all, he had to call me back after I had already left. Anyways, he doesn't know how to wield a sword, you see, so he asked me to bequeath it to you. It would be fitting for you to wield it anyways. Manster is a part of your homeland. Thus it is fitting that you should use this blade to free it." Those words were enough to make Leif accept the sword. And so, Saias went on his way, but not before he had a brief conversation with Seliph, telling him that he might be willing to help later, but first he had to go to the Tower of Blagi.

As the Liberation Army entered the main square of the city, they were greeted by Ced. Since Prince Ced was more familiar with Leif, he greeted him first. "Sorry for the delay in my arrival, Prince Ced. I've... had a lot to deal with." said Leif sheepishly. "Oh, and I uh...I still haven't thanked you for aiding in my escape earlier. Thank you"

"Don't worry about it, I am not looking for thanks. And... how did you... oh, Karin told you."

"She did, but I got confirmation from your father and sister. They are here, prince. You should have been able to reunite with them sooner. Forgive me."

It took a moment for Ced to get over his shock, but once he did, he collected himself and said. "You are not to blame. I had planned to get this done more quickly, however, Forsetti proved ineffective against the Blade of Loptyr. I lost many good men because of it. I am to blame for our current state."

"...I envy you, prince. You are more powerful than you let on. You are an equal to the man you are named after, yet you still maintain humility. I... am not worthy of being called a crusader, unlike you." said Leif, hanging his head in shame.

"That is the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard." said Ced bluntly. Leif's head snapped up. "What do you think a crusader is? Simply someone who has a brand and wields a holy weapon and is a constant victor?" he shook his head

"Of course not! The crusaders were the heroes who toppled the first Loptyr empire after years of trials and losses. For over a year now, no, for your entire life, you have endured trial after trial, freeing your people from tyranny wherever you went, surviving and at least winning Pyrrhic Victories against all the odds stacked against you. Meanwhile, I've been breezing my way through battles with Forsetti by my side. You haven't had that luxury." Ced smiled and put his hands on Leif's shoulders

"I may be more powerful than you, but you are the superior warrior in every sense. I don't know what Lord Seliph has gone through, but I am sure that it is nothing compared to what you, the youngest of us, have. If you are not qualified to be called a crusader, then there is not a single man or woman alive on Jugdral today who is worthy of that title. You are THE Holy Warrior of this peninsula!" declared Ced with a loud voice.

Leif stood in shocked silence for a couple of moments, and then he said, "Lord Ced... thank you." filled with a new confidence, he smiled and said. "To think that I was overwhelmed after seeing all that Lord Seliph had done. I must still be a child to not have seen it."

"Well, in that case, that makes the whole situation all the worse for me. My men were just saved by a child." declared Ced, grinning. "But seriously, we have no time for making jests. My men and I have trapped Raydrik and his men in the castle, which we are slowly but surely taking. However, my men are spread thin keeping watch over the city, and our enemy has taken the rest of the local children hostage. I trust that you will aid us in finishing this fight, Prince." said Ced.

"But of course, I've been looking forward to taking Raydrik down myself. Saias gave me the Blade of Blagi, so that should make things easier for us."

"So... he did reach you. Very good. Now, Prince of Leonstar, things are looking to be as they should be. I wish you luck and... where may I find my relations? I think that it's about time that we had a... family reunion." said Ced, teeth clenched with the last two words.

Leif shrugged. "I'm not sure. We've got most of our pegasus knights on patrol for dragon knights. She might be with them, riding with Arthur. As for your father... Seliph should know where he is. He's right over... oh, there's Fee. You go talk to her, I'll go in and..." he stopped talking and stared at the sky. "Belay that, and get ready for a fight." he said, face growing serious. Ced turned to look at what was on the horizon. Dragon knights.

Chapter Text

Wing Commander Colhuta saw that the city's defenses had fallen, thus he determined that now was the time to strike. Altena... was not so determined to strike. "If we attack Manster now, we will certainly wind up killing civilians! They're all out celebrating the arrival of the Liberation Army. If we let them know what they're up against, or even talk with the Liberation Army, maybe we could get them to-"

"-and give away the element of surprise? Not on your life! We are acting under direct orders from the king. He ordered us to attack, and so we are going to attack. You are not to object to or alter them in any way, Lady Altena!" shouted Colhuta.

"But I am your commander!" Altena sputtered in rage.

"Yes, but this is MY squad! The king thought that you'd give a command like this, so he told me to ignore you if that happened. Honestly, I'm glad he did. How naive can you get, do you honestly think that they would listen to us? Do they even have a damn reason to?" he asked, shutting her down.

He then mumbled under his breath, "This is what you get when you send a green woman to do a trained man's job!" Altena heard this snide remark and practically radiated raw emotion. None of it pleasant. "If you don't like it, you can sit back and watch as the enemy and all respect towards you is annihilated." he told her. Then shouting at the top of his lungs, he ordered "All units, CHARGE!" and Altenna was left behind to watch the massacre unfold.

"Finn, do you have an extra spyglass?" asked Leif. Finn handed him one, and from his spot in the plaza with the glass in hand, Leif got a clear view of the attacking dragon knights. "I thought so. Thracian Dragon Knights. But are they here to help or harm." After a minute, he said "I think I see the commander. His armor seems a bit more opulent than the rest."

"Can you see his face? I think I recognize the flight pattern." said a feminine voice right next to his ear. Leif whipped his head around. "Eda? What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be-"

"Up there, fighting my own countrymen? No, I don't think so. I will not directly partake in that fight. That is where I draw the line, prince. Besides, I still wear Thracian armor. There's a good chance that one of our ranged fighters will mistake me for the enemy and shoot me down. The best I can do is see if I can tell you who the commander is. What does he look like?"

Leif focused the lens. "squint-eyed and short brown hair? I don't know, he looks kind of generic to me."

"That about describes every wing commander in Thracia. Most of the pretty boys either die or get scarred up really quickly. Any defining traits that you can see?" asked Eda.

"He holds his lance backhandedly, and he looks to be in his 50's or so. He's got a bronze star painted onto his armor." observed Finn with his own looking glass.

"Oh, that would probably be Cohulta. Besides the way he holds his lance being somewhat offputting, he's nothing special. A thief with a wing clipper could take him down. It would need to be an ambush, but it could be done." remarked Eda.

Leif looked higher. "Wait, there's someone else. Someone who isn't attacking." he said, re-focusing the spyglass. "It looks like a girl... at least from this angle. She's got a fancy looking lance, crimson armor, and I think that's a... pink headband."

Finn looked at Leif to see what he was focusing on, and then adjusted his spyglass accordingly, his frown growing larger as he got a better look at her. As he did this, Leif noticed that Eda had turned a little pale. "Is there something wrong?" he asked.

Eda swallowed and said "That sounds like my lady, Altena." There was a shattering sound behind them. They both whipped around and saw that Finn had dropped his spyglass. But that wasn't what was immediately noticeable about him. What was noticeable was his entire countenance. His face had turned deathly white, his stance was unsteady, one hand grasped at a nearby wall, and written across his face, was an expression of utter horror.

When the fighting started, Fee spotted her brother, taking down swaths of enemies. She swooped down in order to impale a dragon knight that was coming up behind him. "Ced! Is that you?! It's me, your sister!"

Ced whipped around "Fee? Do you mind telling me just what the hell you are doing here?"

"I've been looking for you! What else could I do? Mom's gone, and once you left, you never made one trip back home. Not one!" Fee shouted back angrily.

Ced grimaced. "Sorry, I came here while I was searching for father. When I found that the people here were living in such a deplorable state... well, I couldn't just leave them to suffer it anymore, could I? I...I put other people's needs ahead of my own. Sorry."

"Oh Ced, that's just like you. It's no wonder that everybody loves you." said Fee, smiling sadly.

"So... you joined the liberation army." said Ced, transitioning awkwardly.

"You're not the only one who wanted to help out." she said.

"It must run in the family." said Ced grinning.

"Well, except when it comes to helping each other." growled Fee. "I'll never forgive father for what he did. I wound up being the one who found him. He was in Isaac, hanging out around Lord Seliph. He's been behaving like he doesn't know me or recognize my face."

"Should have figured that he'd go there, considering his relationship with Lord Sigurd." muttered Ced to himself. To her, he said "Well maybe he didn't. Recognize your face, I mean. You were a baby when he left, so I suppose its logical... Then again, he should have been able to figure it out. You ARE his daughter after all. But then again, if he knew who you were from the beginning... I don't know, I just cannot properly explain him."

Arthur leaned sideways from his spot in Fee's saddle to say "I hate to break up this heartwarming reunion, but we've got about five dragon knights swooping in and heading this way so that they can murder us."

Ced promptly decimated them. "Who's the boy? Your-"

"Partner. Arthur is my battle partner. Sure, sharing a saddle limits my range of motion somewhat, but he's proficient in all three primary magic types, so it makes it easier for me to focus on just one enemy at a time, so I keep him around. You can have a friendly chat with him about his motives later."

"Wait, what?" said Arthur as they launched back into the sky.

Lewyn followed Rand as he stalked through the city streets. To him, something felt... off, about the bard, and so Lewyn desired to investigate him. He stared by prying into his motives. "Why do you insist on coming with us on this campaign, especially with the constant battles?" asked Lewyn. "You don't participate in them at all. So if anything, you'll just get in the way and get yourself killed."

"Won't that be a welcome change. I'll get to entertain the dead instead of the living. I'll have a much bigger audience." snarked Rand. "And for the record, I could say the same for you. I don't see you doing much other than 'advising', and I'm not so sure that your presence is as welcome as you think that it is."

"You have no right in saying that. I serve as Seliph's tactical advisor, and I have been using wind magic for my entire life, so I serve a purpose, and I can defend myself. You on the other hand, are a man only known only to a few, remembered by fewer, and I have never once seen you wield a weapon. You have no point in being here at all. You just show up occasionally, saw or do something to grab attention for a little bit, then you move on. There is no comparison between us. I-"

Rand snorted "Don't have a point? Oh, I'm far from being useless, believe me. There's more to me than meets the eye!" as soon as he uttered those words, the tip of a javelin sprouted from his chest, near his left shoulder.

"For example, he's not just a rebellious citizen, he's a rebellious citizen that just got put down." said the enemy captain, grinning.

"Nice ambush, poor one-liner. Neither will do you any good. Now pick a god and pray." Rand growled. He then yanked the javelin forward, flinging the man towards him. He spun around and flopped on his back. This maneuver pushed it the rest of the way through his body, but the force caused it to impale the captain as well.

Lewyn saw this go down, and was surprised by his versatility. He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised, after all, HE had wandered around disguised as a bard in his younger days. However, his attention was soon taken by some grunts, when he finally turned about, he saw Rand holding a bloodied lance, and pulling an arrow out... of his eye socket. With the eye still attached.

"Find a proper healer, now." he ordered. Trying to grab hold of him.

Rand sighed, seemingly exasperated. "Dammit. I was hoping you wouldn't see this... it's fine. I'm just fine."

"Just fine? You just lost your damn-" Lewyn froze and jolted back when he got a good look at him. The wound had ceased bleeding, and... and he could see sinew and tissue forming together, creating a new eye. Rand was still holding the bloody arrow and eyeball all the while. "What."

"I wish you hadn't seen that." muttered Rand.

"What are you?" growled Lewyn, suddenly hostile. "And what do you think you are doing here?"

Rand sighed and leaned up close to his ear and whispered. "Participating in a major, world changing event, without actually influencing the outcome. At least not to a significant degree. Unlike you, Forsetti... or should I call you Nils." Lewyn recoiled and stared at him in horror, backing away slowly.

Rand pulled back and nodded. "Yes, I know who, and WHAT you really are. And no, I'm not and agent of Naga, and I am not Naga in disguise, or related to any of your dragon allies. So if you think that I'm here to spy on you... that's not the case. I just happen to be a... well informed third party with an interest in... current events. One who happens to know all of your secrets. I have an explanation... but now is not the time. I promise a full disclosure later on. That way we even out the playing field. I'm not interested in putting up with another damn game of cat and mouse. For now though... you've got more pressing matters at hand." said Rand, pointing behind Lewyn.

That's when Lewyn noticed that the fighting had died down and that Ced was rapidly approaching him.

Faval was in his element. Sniping down any dragon knights that came into his line of sight. Colhuta noticed this and he dived low. His dragon's talons almost touched the ground as he swooped forward in an effort to take him down at close range. Faval saw him coming. He looked straight at Colhuta and drew his bow. "Goodbye." he whispered. He never needed to fire.

Out of nowhere, a small figure leapt over the dragon, severing the left wingtip, and then tucked and rolled on the other side. The dragon shrieked, leaned sharply to the right, and tumbled in that direction, striking the ground and bouncing. Colhuta was sent flying sans a mount, and he crashed through the chimney of a nearby house before falling to the ground on the other side of the house. His dragon went through an empty house, which collapsed on top of it. Faval looked at the figure who had taken out the dragon in bewilderment. "Patty?!"

"Hey Faval! Guess what? It turns out that that weird sword I inherited from our father was a wing clipper! Pretty cool huh? I figured that I could put it to good use." she called out to him

"You... are you telling me that you just figured this out now? Patty, we LIVE in Thracia, the homeland of dragon knights. I know nothing about swords, but even I could have told you it's purpose!

Patty pouted "Big help you were, in helping me learn then! I had to figure it out all by myself! I used to use this thing for cutting leather. Then I noticed that these dragon's wings looked kinda like leather, so I decided to give cutting their wings a shot, see if it worked. Turns out, it did!"

Faval put a hand on his forehead and closed his eyes. "Patty, please don't tell me that you discovered it was a wing clipper... via pulling that stunt just now."

"... Didn't I just tell you? That's exactly what I did."

His fingernails dug into his temples. "Have you lost your goddamn mind?! Is... is losing your sanity and all common sense a requirement for joining this army? What in the name of heaven and hell could have convinced you that pulling that stunt was even remotely a good idea?" Faval shouted

Patty put her hands on her hips. "If loss of sanity is a requirement, then it's no wonder that you've taken to this lifestyle so easily! You lost your sanity years ago to your mercenary work! I mean, you're here scolding me over my bold battle choices, when just last year you jumped out of a third story window, assassinated a guy on the second as you fell, and then landed in a retention pond that must have had a venomous snake or two in it considering the fever you came back with and the two small puncture wounds I found on your-"

Faval sighed. "Alright, you got me." just... please promise me that you'll never try to pull something like that again.

"No." said Patty resolutely.

"Father." said Ced with a stern tone, arms folded.

Lewyn sighed. "Hey Ced, you've found me at last. So... how've you been?"

"How have I been? You haven't seen me in years, and that's the first thing that you say to me? You've got some nerve! Do you have any idea about how long I've been searching for you?" he demanded

"...A while. How was your mother doing when you left?"

Ced's pupils dilated. "How was she doing?! She was dying! I went searching for you so that she could see your face one last time! Now, it's to late!" he screamed

"...well that's to bad. But there is nothing we can do about it now. It's unfortunate that we couldn't be there." said Lewyn. That response was met with a solid, wind enhanced right hook to the jaw.

"How can you be so callous?! You don't look even a little upset!" Ced yelled. "Do you even care at all? Do you feel nothing over the death of your wife?!" Lewyn remained silent, wiping the blood away. "You never even loved her, did you? You just found her to be a convenient way to sire an heir as quickly as possible and then go on your merry way. Your acts of an affection just a convenient scheme to get her in your bed."

"Ced, don't be ridiculous. We conceived you on our wedding night. Do you honestly believe that I could have planned that? I most certainly did not! It was a pleasant surprise for us both when we realized you were on the way. If anything, if I were a misogynist like you suggest, wouldn't that make me want to keep such a good wife around? Besides, your logic falls apart as soon as it looks in Fee's direction. If I wanted to leave immediately or have just one heir, then why do you have a sister that's two years younger than you that came from the same mother? I could have left at any time, I'd done it before, as you had to have been told."

Ignoring the point that his father had just made, Ced continued on his rant. "That's another thing we need to discuss. Fee. You know, you are the only person in the WORLD that she hates. Right? She decided a long time ago that she would give you the silent treatment if you came back, yet from what I've heard from her, she actually made an effort to reach out to you initially instead of doing as she planned. Why didn't you respond? Why haven't you approached her on your own? You KNEW she was here." Ced shouted accusingly.

By this point, Lewyn had had enough "Ced, I left my family a long time ago for a reason. Just deal with is, okay?" and with that, he stormed off. Ced tried to pull him back with the power of the Forsetti tome, but he found he was unable to, to his shock.

"This isn't over father." Ced mumbled. "Yet, I suppose we have more pressing matters at hand right now." he said, looking at the looming Manster palace, and the dangers that lurked within.

Chapter Text

Raydrik was panicking. His forces had fallen apart, most of his nearby allies had either been killed or fled, he wasn't getting a response from Belhalla, and he was trapped within his own palace, with nowhere to go but down. And down meant breaching that area was being used by the leaders of the Loptyr cult in Thracia, and they were not particularly pleased with him at the moment. Thus he was forced to beg for help. "Just give me some time and some men, and I can eliminate them." he promised.

Archdeacon Veld just scoffed at that desperate plea. "Don't make un-keepable promises. It's obvious who has the upper hand in this situation. We're finished here, and your life means nothing to us now." he said, shaking his head "Such a disappointment, this was a great stronghold." he added under his breath.

This caused Raydrik to beg again, so Skaro, who also happened to be there, whispered in Veld's ear "I can spare some of my men. We could use the distraction as we arrange our withdrawal."

Veld sighed. He couldn't argue with that logic. He looked at Raydrik and said "Very well then. A part of the Schwarze Rosen will stay behind to aid you. We shall see if you get lucky. I don't expect that you shall, however. So I will be in the temple center, preparing."

"Alright everyone, listen up. Raydrik's soldiers may have been decimated, but there is still a large number of mercenaries lurking in the castle. From what I hear, one of them is particularly dangerous. His name is Galzus. If the reports I have heard about him are true, then I pray that he will stand down so that we will not have to confront him. I fear we will loose many good men otherwise." Ced explained to the army. "I will let August explain our plan now."

With that, August stepped up. "I'm dividing us into three separate squads. The first squad will rescue the captive children. The second will incapacitate as many Loptyrian bishops as they can. These tasks require immediate attention, thus I sent those squads in early. The final squad, consisting of the rest of us, will focus on dealing with Raydrik himself. Now, any questions?"

Leif raised his hand, "I understand rescuing children, but why branch out to take out the bishops?"

"They are lurking in the eastern corner of the castle, wielding Berserk and Sleep staffs. I believe that you can connect the dots from there, Prince, concerning why I think they need our immediate attention. Now, are there any other questions?" August surveyed the crowd. Then he pointed at Johan. "You there, you look like you want to say something."

"...Wait, you mean me?! No, you're mistaken sir, it's nothing important." said Johan.

"Not important? Any observation, no matter how ridiculous sounding could wind up being critical."

Johan looked embarrassed "It's nothing like that, sir. I noticed a grammar mistake that the prince made, and I opened my big mouth, then shut it again when I realized that it wasn't worth the distraction. I was hoping you wouldn't notice and we could move on or I could tell him in private... or something."

August gave Johan a cold, hard stare that made Johan feel very uncomfortable. Until Shanan piped in and came to his rescue. "Eh, just tell us all the mistake, Johan. Who knows, refined speech could help us with the peace conferences once this is all over. You have our attention anyways."

Johan breathed out heavily, and then said. "Prince, I don't think that you used the word 'decimate' correctly. It derives from 'deci-' which means ten, or one-tenth. Thus, saying that his forces have been decimated implies that we've taken out only one tenth of his forces, which would mean that we have a very long and hard battle ahead of us. But if that really is what you meant then..." Johan's face turned red.

Ulster heard a giggle. He looked at Patty, then at Teeny, then at Julia, then all around, but the only one that he could detect the semblance of a smile on was... Larcei? No, he must be mistaken. Only girls who thought a boy was being cute did that, and Larcei certainly would never act like that... would she?

Leif's face adopted a considerate look. "Huh, are you sure about that?" he asked.

"I'm confident. While growing up, I willingly spent a lot of time learning proper linguistics." said Johan

"Ok then. Thank you for the correction. I'll keep that in mind. Now, if there's nothing left to be said, then let's move out!" proclaimed Leif.

The two secondary tasks were completed in relatively short order. August sent Orsin, Machyua, Asvel, Shiva, Felgus, and Shanam after the priests. All of them were skilled warriors who dealt with the problem in short order. It also helped that the staff users were brought in and ordered to use Silence staffs beforehand.

However, it should be noted that having Shanam involved had been a last minute decision, as Finn had been one of August's original choices for this mission. However, Finn had just explained the truth about Altena to Leif and Eda, and his mental state was still very shaky as a result. Leif noticed and immediately told August that Finn wasn't in a good state for taking on side missions just now. He didn't explain in detail, he just explained that something that had happened that shook him to the core. August left them, but not before noticing a very worried looking Eda talking to her brother, Dean. Dean's face went dead serious as she spoke.

"Whatever just happened is none of my concern. I'll be leaving Leif's company shortly anyways." August told himself. He started wondering about who else he could send, then he saw Prince Shanan with... someone. He ran closer and then he saw that Shanan was having a conversation with... himself.

Why were there two Shanans? Of Course! He must have a body double!" thought August. "Prince Shanan?" he called out to them. "Yes?" they both said, turning their attention towards him. August hesitated, looked at both of them, then sighed and said "Look, I don't know which one of you is the real one, but I have a mission of the utmost importance. As I just explained..." he then went over the plan, and explained his intended role for them.

The two looked at each other for a moment, then Shanam said, "I'll do it."

"Thank you." said August, and then he left.

"You didn't have to volunteer yourself, you know. I could have done it." said Shanan.

"Well, if I'm going to be your double, them I'm going to be volunteered for stuff like this all the time. Might as well start getting used to it now." explained Shanam.

Shanan grinned "Alrighty then. I can already tell that this is going to be loads of fun."

Mareeta recognized Galzus immediately, and knew that fighting him shouldn't be necessary. She indicated her intent to her companions, and then went forward to meet him. "You.. you're the swordsman that saved me. I've been wanting to meet you properly." she said. Galzus had not expected to see her, and thus, he was taken off guard, freezing in place mid-swing. "Why... why have you returned to this place, child? You're just a mere girl playing with weapons. Put it away! A sword is not a toy!"

Mareeta closed her eyes. "I know that full well." she said. "I learned that lesson from my mother...and from the evil blade I once held." she sighed, then said "When I was under its control, I met my father in a dream. I may have been small when we were separated, but I still hold memories of him. He was strong, kind, furious in battle, but gentle otherwise. In other words, he was you, Galzus." Galzus's shocked expression confirmed Mareeta's suspicions and she latched onto the unexpected opportunity that she had been given "Say something, PLEASE! FATHER! I want to get to know you again. Why didn't you say anything before or hang onto me or stay with me after you freed me?"

Galzus bowed his head, "I... I thought you would hate me." he said.

"Why would I hate you? I was captured by slave traders because I was a disobedient child, not because of anything you did! If anyone, I should hate myself for that! In the end, it doesn't matter. I never experienced life as a slave. Lady Eyvel rescued me before that could happen."

Galzus looked away. "I searched high and low, but I never could find you... and now, in that interval since I lost you... my hands have become far to bloodstained to ever be a proper father to you. It would be best for you if I were forgotten." he turned to leave, but Mareeta grabbed his arm. "NO! No matter what happens, no matter what you've done, I will always accept you as my father." she said, looking pleadingly into his eyes.

Galzus closed his eyes and sighed heavily. "...The woman who raised you... is she the swordswoman who was turned to stone?" he asked. Mareeta nodded. "Then I owe her much. On my honor, I will repay her for all she has done!" he declared. Thus, Mareeta rejoined the rest of the force, Galzus in tow.

"Who is this?" asked Leif.

"He's Galzus... my father." replied Mareeta.

"Your fa-... Congratulations Mareeta. I'm happy that you were able to do something I never can." said Leif, smiling fondly at her. "All I can do now, is avenge my immediate ancestors, starting with my grandfather. " he said, raising the Blaggi sword.

Galzus recognised it for what it was immediately. "Even with that blade in hand, you may have difficulty in taking him down. Allow me to provide support." he said.

"I will help as well." declared Mareeta.

"Thank you both." said Leif. I very much appreciate it."

"Raydrik. I owe you much for what you've done. I am here to properly reward your actions." said Leif, raising his sword.

"Ah, the young prince. Hmph. So you've the audacity to come and try to kill me? You fool, I've been fighting for longer than you've been alive! You're the one who is going to die!" shouted Raydrik, lunging forward.

Leif countered the blow, and lashed out, leaving a large gash on Raydrik's cheek. Raydrik had gone into battle expecting his blade's magic to weaken any blow he received, so this wound was worrisome for him. In desperation, he went on the offensive, landing blow after blow against Leif's defense. He'd almost broken through when Galzus and Mareeta intervened and blocked his sword. "Guards! Help me!" he shouted.

This caused Galzus to break off in order to deal with them, leaving Mareeta and Leif to tag team Raydrik. He was able to keep up with them... barely. Finally, he was backed up against the wall. Raydrik's armor and the defensive magic of his sword made it so that he only had one true weak point... his head. So while he was backed in a corner, he was able to hold them off and keep them from rendering any critical hits. This worked as he was a full grown adult, a tall one at that, facing two teenagers. Eventually, Mareeta lashed out at his face, and put all of her body weight into her blade, forcing him to hold his blade steady in front of him. As Mareeta held him in place, Leif hammered upon the Loptyr blade with the sword that Saias had given him.

Raydrik was preparing to throw them off, when suddenly, he felt a flush of energy, and suddenly, that energy left him, causing him to fall to one knee. He looked down the hall, and saw Nanna holding her Earth sword aloft. "So, you've all come for revenge. Well to bad for you. For as long as I hold this sword-" he never got to finish his sentence. With one last powerful blow from Leif, the Loptyr Blade shattered.

"NO! VELD! HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN?!" he cried out. Raydrik pressed his back up against the wall as his foes drew closer. "No, please, I don't want to die!" he cried, he stood straight up, arms raised. "Prince Leif, please! I'll-"

Leif drove his sword through Raydrik's mouth. It went out the back of his head and pierced the wall behind him. "If you wanted to live, then you shouldn't have betrayed my family." Leif growled. He withdrew his sword. Raydrik's body dropped to the ground. But there was no thud. No blood oozing to the ground as it lay there. Because as soon as his body came in contact with the ground, shadows seemed to consume it, turning it into a churning, black ooze that swirled rapidly, and then melted away, leaving nothing behind.

The children had been saved. Now it was just a matter of guiding them out. The path was clear and it looked like they had gathered everyone. But just to be safe, Teeny asked them. "Alright kids, we're almost out, but tell me, are we missing any of your little friends? I want to make sure that we don't forget anyone and leave them behind. Could you please tell me if we are missing anyone?" There was murmuring among the children, then one short and stubby child shouted. "Where's Marco?" all the kids then started shouting "MARCO!" but were failing to get a response.

Teeny looked at her companions. "Linda? Daisy? Can you two stay with them? I'm going to look for Marco. Sara, can you please keep me company?"

Sara straightened up. "Yes... I will. Maybe we should bring the boy who noticed he's missing. He could help." she suggested. So that's what they did. So they wandered through the halls shouting "MARCO!" finally, a voice called out "Rollo!" and a six year old ran over and embraced the other child.

"Where were you, Marco?" asked Rollo.

"I found a door, and I opened it, but it led to a creepy room." said Marco.

That got Sara's attention. "Could... I see this room, Marco?" she asked. Marco showed them the way, and they ran into Delmund, who was hiding his hands behind his back. They asked him to take the children back. Delmund rolled his eyes but agreed. "Fine. Follow me you meandering chatterboxes." he said and start walking.

Teeny watched him go. What was he hiding? Teeny thought she could make out a ring, but she wasn't sure. "Maybe letting him take them was a mistake. Maybe we should go back." she said as Sara walked into the room. Sara ignored her, so Teeny followed, and found that the room was lit with a dark blue light, and it had an alter in the middle with a statue on it. It's right hand was held outwards, and its left hand was closed, holding a staff. "Who's that?" she asked.

"It's Kia. He was a famous sculptor here when grandfather was young. It's said that he was so good at what he did, that he actually learned how to turn people into statues, and statues into people. It's said that his memorial holds two items; a tome that can be used to petrify, and a staff that can undo the magic of the tome." explained Sara.

"The tome is missing." observed Teeny.

"It means that it is currently in use. Which means that I'll need this." said Sara, grabbing the Kia staff. "I'm sure I can use it, but I'll have to test it first."

"On what?" asked Teeny

"On Kia himself." responded Sara. The staff began to glow, as did the statue. Teeny thought she could hear grunting emanating from it. Suddenly, it stopped. "I can use it, let's go." said Sara.

"But... you didn't revive him." said Teeny.

"I didn't need to. That was enough to prove that I could use it. Besides, I don't think reviving him would have been wise... especially with only the two of us present. He wasn't... the kindest. I feel like I should ask permission before I ever use this... I'll talk to Lord Leif. Now... let's rejoin the children." said Sara.