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The Dragon's Shadow

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When Saizo received Lord Ryoma’s summons, his gut had clenched with anxiety. It was unusual for his lord to call on him when he was not on duty. Most matters were usually discussed in their daily breifings when Saizo came to relieve Kagero of her post or vice versa. To be called upon otherwise likely meant that something of utmost urgency had arisen. However, considering recent events, Saizo wondered if this timing was not coincidental. Could Corrin have gone to Lord Ryoma to report his behavior? Maybe she did so out of continued concern for him, or maybe she had gone to her older brother with the pain that he had obviously inflicted upon her. Lord Ryoma might demand penance or administer punishment if he had any idea what Saizo had put Corrin through. 

Every time he thought about what he had said to her...the pain in his chest was so great that he found himself scarcely able to breathe. Sleep had evaded him the past few nights, and what little he got was haunted with dreams of her. He hated himself with every fiber of his being for doing that to her. It was one of the hardest things he had ever done. But it had been necessary. At least, that’s what he kept telling himself. It was necessary. That did little to stop the guilt that bubbled in his stomach every time his thoughts returned to the tears on her cheeks or the tremble in her voice. Was he selfish for forcing her away, just to make it easier for him to resist his feelings for her? But what was it that she had said?

First you hate me, then after everything, you make me think that maybe...that maybe...

That maybe...what? What was it she couldn’t say? She had never been hesitant to speak openly of their friendship before. Was it possible that she might also…?

No. That was wishful thinking at best. He needed to stop overanalyzing it. Even if…well, then it was all for the better. He would be sparing both of them in the end. Better a little pain now than a world of grief later. It was better this way. That, at least, had been the truth. 

Saizo reached Lord Ryoma’s quarters. Whatever awaited him inside, it was best to get it over with. 

“My Lord,” he announced as he waited just outside the entrance to the large canvas tent. 

“Enter,” came his lord’s response. 

Saizo took a deep breath as he pushed the flap aside and stepped into the tent. 

It was empty except for Ryoma sitting on the raised diaz in the formal entrance. Ryoma’s personal quarters lay behind another set of tent flaps off to the left. Saizo walked forward and knelt before his lord, bowing his head. “Sir.”

“Sit,” Ryoma directed, “I have something I want to ask you.”

Saizo complied, moving to sit in seiza as he looked up at his lord’s face. “How may I be of service?”

“Here is my question,” Ryoma said, “Besides myself, which of my siblings would you trust the most to fight at your back?”

The question seemed strange to Saizo, but it was not his place to say so. The answer was so clear in his mind, that he didn’t even bother to stop and think about it before he blurted out her name: “Corrin, my Lord.”

The moment it left his mouth, he regretted it. Whatever the point of the question, he was certain that this answer was not in his best interest. It was too late to take it back now, so he sat in silence, mentally cursing himself as he awaited his lord's response. 

“I thought you might say so,” Ryoma nodded with a slight smile, as if he were pleased he knew his retainer so well, “In that case, it’s settled. I have a mission for you.”

Saizo sat in confused silence. 

Ryoma continued. “I have been monitoring a situation in the northern mountains for some time, but the situation has become more alarming in recent days. There is what we believe to be a militant sect that has taken root near the Taka Pass. Reports have been few, but from what we know, they have been responsible for a string of massacers and disappearances in several surrounding villages. We know little about who they are, what their goal is, or whether or not they are in league with Nohr. We do know that they are skilled mages who employ strange and powerful magic. In the last report we recieved, the village of Kusa had been all but wiped from the map, with no survivors and massive and unexplained damage to the infrastructure. We received no further reports, and when we sent scouts to investigate, they failed to return.”

Saizo took in this information, which while troubling, seemed unrelated to his lord’s initial question. 

“Since we have currently reached a lull in our fight against Nohr,” Ryoma went on, “I have decided that now is time to address and nullify this threat. Which is why I have decided to send you and Corrin to assess and deal with the situation if possible, and if not to return and gather reinforcements to do so.” 

Saizo’s mouth fell open beneath his mask. Shit. 

He cleared his throat. “Pardon, my Lord, but when you asked your question earlier, I assumed that you meant on the field of battle.”

Ryoma nodded, “I did.”

“But, my Lord.” Saizo searched for the right words. “This mission will require skills only ninja possess. While Corrin is a force of nature on the battlefield, without such training, it is my belief that she is ill-equipped to handle such an assignment. Would it not do better to send another ninja to accompany me? Surely Kaze or Kagero-- ”

 Ryoma tilted his head. “It’s unusual for you to question my orders Saizo. While I do understand your concern, I have spent many hours thinking this through. I asked you to choose from my siblings, because I believe it is necessary that you have someone accompanying you who can not only hold their own, but who can also access dragon veins. To travel to and from Taka Pass on foot would take precious weeks of your time that we can’t afford to waste. I have consulted with Lilith, who has advised me that there are little to no accessible dragon veins within the mountains. She will take you to the closest one, near Shinuru, and on the return journey, Corrin will be able to reopen it to return you both to the Astral Realm.”

Saizo’s mind was whirling, looking for any possible way out of this mess. “I do not mean to question your judgement my Lord, but I understand the gravity of this mission, so I want to be sure all avenues have been explored. Would Lord Takumi not be better-suited for this mission? He is adept at moving through rough terrain. We would be able to make quicker progress through the mountains if I were accompanied by him rather than Corrin.”

Ryoma nodded, “You make a fair point; however, if I’m correct, you and Takumi have very little experience pairing up in battle. Considering the danger of this mission, you will need someone whom you can trust, whose moves you can predict and whose style compliments your own. I have seen you and Corrin work together in battle many a time, and as you said yourself, she is the one you trust the most. So in these regards, she is the clear choice.”

Saizo cursed himself again. “While I am happy to give my life in your service, my Lord, Corrin is invaluable to our cause. Considering the danger of this mission…”

“I understand your concern. I would not put her life in anyone else’s hands Saizo. Corrin is fully capable of handling herself, but I know, should anything happen, that I can trust you to protect her at all costs. I have no doubt that she will do her utmost to keep you safe as well. I have full faith that you will both return to me in one piece.” 

Saizo felt his heart sink in defeat. He could not think of any other reasonable means of escape. Lord Ryoma had made up his mind. What sadistic god had he crossed to deserve this cruel twist of fate?

“Understood.” Saizo tried to hide the despair in his voice. “When do we leave?”

 


 

Corrin sifted through the ocean of papers that covered her writing desk. She admonished herself for not being more organized. Terrain maps were stacked on top of provision requests, which were intermixed with scouting reports. She was glad Jakob wasn’t around to see her frustration. He was always on her case about the state of her desk, which she forbade him from touching. It was chaos, but it was structured chaos. Sort of. Usually. She almost always knew where everything was. Except for times like right now. When she couldn’t find the damned ledger anywhere. 

There was a sharp knock on her door. Corrin growled under her breath as she found the same stupid requests for bath robes for the fifth time. 

“Not now,” she called as she shuffled the papers around, “I’m busy.” She couldn’t trust herself to have a civil conversation right now when she was already this irritated. 

“It’s urgent.” 

That voice stopped her in her tracks. She leaned heavily against the desk for support. 

“Then enter,” she sighed, picking up another paper and scanning over it. 

She heard the door open and shut. She didn’t hear footsteps, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t right behind her. She continued reading over the report, but when he spoke, it was clear he had stopped just inside the doorway. 

“Lord Ryoma requests your presence in his quarters.”

Corrin set the paper down, having not actually comprehended a single word on the page.

She pushed herself off her desk and turned to face him. “Okay. Thank you.” 

When Saizo didn’t move, Corrin raised her eyebrows. “Anything else?”

When he still said nothing, Corrin shrugged and made for the door. Saizo’s arm came up, blocking her path as she moved to walk past him. “Wait.” 

Corrin felt her heart skitter, but she forced out a breath as she stopped short. She turned her gaze up to his face. “What?”

“Ryoma is going to ask you to do something,” Saizo said, “You need to refuse.” 

Corrin took a second to digest that. One of her hands rested on her hip, the other came up to pinch the bridge of her nose. She closed her eyes and tried to make sense of it. 

“And why should I do that?” she asked. 

“Because it’s the right choice,” he answered. 

Corrin sighed. “Well I won’t know that until I hear what he wants, will I? Now please move.” 

“No,” Saizo growled, “Listen to me--”

“No, you listen to me,” she snapped. “I don’t know why you think you suddenly have the authority to make my decisions for me. You’re either going to explain what’s going on, or you’re going to get out of my way so I can go talk to my brother about it. Make your choice.” 

“...Fine.” Saizo crossed his arms. “Lord Ryoma wants you to accompany me on a long and dangerous mission. So you need to turn it down.” 

Corrin narrowed her eyes. “Why?”

“Did you not hear what I said?” Saizo stared down at her. “It’s a long and dangerous mission.”

Corrin bit her lip and her eyes wandered the room for several seconds while she sorted through her thoughts. 

“So,” she said, turning back to Saizo, “You don’t want me to go on this mission with you. That’s not surprising I guess. Is it because you don’t think I can handle it, or because you don’t want to be around me?”

Corrin crossed her own arms and waited for his response. It took several moments of silence before he answered. 

“Yes.”

Corrin scoffed and let out a humorless chuckle. “Figures. Well, the way I see it, if Ryoma has decided that it’s a mission I can handle, then it’s probably a mission I can handle. I’m sure he has his reasons for choosing me. And maybe this will give me the chance to remove that stick that’s been lodged up your as--”

“Corrin,” Saizo growled, taking a step towards her, “This is serious. Do you have any training in stealth? Reconnaissance? Survival? Any of the ninja arts?”

“No, but--”

“Exactly. You have no experience. You are not equipped for this line of work. You would be a liability to both of us.”

“You can train me,” Corrin insisted, “I’m a fast learner. Whatever I need to know, you can--”

Now it was Saizo’s turn for an empty laugh. “You think you could become a ninja in a matter of weeks? Don’t insult me. It takes years to master even the basics--someone like you--”

Someone like me?” Corrin felt her temper flare.

Saizo hissed. “All I’m trying to say is that you are not suited to the task. It would put you at too great a risk.” 

“So you think your judgement is better than Ryoma’s? Don’t you think he’s thought this through? He wouldn’t ask me to do something if he didn’t think I was capable.”

“Ryoma is a prince, not a ninja,” Saizo said, “He assigns the missions, but he has never been on one. He knows the risk on paper.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Corrin,” Saizo loomed closer, “Have you ever been tortured?”

“Huh?” Corrin’s eyes widened, “What do you…?”

“These people…” Saizo grabbed her by the arm. “...will do whatever it takes to get what they want. If they capture you…” 

Saizo spun. Before she could react, he had grabbed her other hand, and just like that, she was pinned against the wall with both of her hands immobilized above her head. Something in her stomach flipped. Her instincts fought against one another, rendering her motionless as she stared up into the face that was now only inches from hers. Her heart was beating out of control. Her mind was blank, caught between surprise and something else. 

“...they will hurt you in every way imaginable.” Saizo’s voice was low as he moved in closer. Corrin was frozen. “As a woman, you would be an especially vulnerable captive. Are you prepared to endure unthinkable suffering, if it means keeping the secrets of your comrades safe until your final breath?” 

His mouth was near her ear. Corrin could hardly breathe. His breath rustled the strands of hair by her ear, and she could feel the rumble of his voice in his chest as he spoke. He towered over her, blocking the rest of the room from her sight. She could only stare into the tattered blue scarf that looped around his neck, almost close enough to her face to tickle her nose. She could smell the scents of leather and gunpowder that clung to him. The coarse fabric of his gloves was rough against the skin of her wrists as he restrained them with ease, his grip gentle yet firm. He was all around her. 

“If you can’t do that, then you will have to take your own life before it falls into their hands...Do you think...that’s something you could do?”

The cogs in Corrin’s brain groaned before they began turning again as she stood there, pressed between Saizo and the wall. Thoughts began to spin in her mind. Everything was confusing, and nothing made sense, nothing more so than the conflicting reactions of her body and mind to the current situation. What the hell was wrong with her? Putting aside those thoughts into the ‘ definitely examine later ’ bin in the back of her head, Corrin summoned the willpower to force her mind back into some semblance of logical order. Adding together everything he’d said, something finally clicked. She took a deep breath, hoping her voice wouldn’t betray her.

“Saizo…Are you...You are. You’re worried about me. That’s what this is about.” She felt his muscles stiffen as she spoke. 

“That’s not it,” he growled, so low that she felt the vibrations. It sent a shiver down her spine. 

Pushing that away, Corrin’s thoughts churned further. She felt something begin to build inside of her, now that she had shaken off the initial shock. 

“Not all of it maybe. Maybe you do think I’ll be a burden. There’s something else too, isn’t there? But in any case…” She lowered her voice to a dangerous pitch. “This is a fucked up way of going about it.”

Saizo drew his head back and looked into her face. Corrin stared back into his bewildered eye. She knew her pupils must be the dragon’s slits by now. That feeling had ballooned inside of her until she was almost ready to burst. Her entire body began to quake. 

“I think I understand what you were trying to do,” she said, “And I appreciate your concern for my well-being. However, you seem to have forgotten who I am. I am not a maid in a tower who needs saving from a dragon. I am the dragon. And if you don’t remove your hands from me in the next five seconds, I will burn you to a husk and dance in your ashes.”

The grip on her wrists loosened, and Saizo backed away, his one eye stretched wide. 

Corrin didn’t let him get away. She followed, closing the space between them again. “Furthermore, I am a princess of Hoshido, commander of the Hoshidan army, and wielder of the sacred Yato blade. I know the risks. I am neither immortal nor infallible. If at any point my continued existence becomes a risk to the safety of my friends or my country, I will not hesitate to run Yato through my heart. If I am being called upon to serve in the interests of Hoshido, I will do whatever needs to be done, without fail. Nothing you can say or do will sway me from this. If you doubt my convictions, then you don’t know me as well as I thought you did Saizo.” 

Silence stretched out. Saizo slowly sank down to one knee and bowed his head to her. 

“Please...forgive me. It was never your conviction that I doubted, but rather...my own.”

“Your conviction?” The tide of rage within her had crested, and now it slowly began to ebb.

The pained breath that escaped him surprised her. “I….I can’t fully explain, but...I just know that if anything were to happen to you, and I failed to stop it, Lord Ryoma would never forgive me...and I would never forgive myself.” He kept his eye on the floor.

“Saizo,” Corrin knelt down next to him, “The only reason I’m alive here in front of you today...is because you saved me. I would be dead if it weren’t for you.”

Saizo let out a breath that may have been a laugh. “The only reason I got the opportunity to do that was because your Nohrian brother stopped me from killing you that day on the edge of the Bottomless Canyon.”

“We were enemies,” Corrin spoke softer now. What barrier had crumbled between them? “On opposite sides of the battlefield. It was the natural thing to do. I don’t hold that against you Saizo. I never did. But in any case, you’re giving yourself too much credit. Whether it’s on a mission or on the battlefield, my choices are my own. If I get hurt or even die, it’s not because anyone else failed--it’s because I made a decision. While you can try your damndest, my life ultimately rests in my own hands, and I am the one who gets to decide what to do with it. So don’t go taking the blame for something that isn’t your fault, even before it happens…”

Saizo sighed, and let out a small laugh, but this time there was actual humor behind it. “Why did I think I could talk you out of it to begin with? It’s not like you’ve ever listened to me before.” 

Corrin grinned. “I don’t know. It was your dumb idea, so you tell me.” 

Saizo lowered his eyes once more. “But I apologize for my...brazenness. That was… completely out of line. I understand if you wish to report my actions to Lord Ryoma. I will accept whatever punishment you deem fit.” 

“Hmm,” Corrin pursed her lips and put one finger to the corner of her mouth, “That was rather uncalled for, and very rude, might I add. As penance, I demand that you acquire fruit tortes and bring them to my room later so you and I can discuss the mission over tea.” 

Saizo looked up at her incredulously. “I don’t understand. I showed you such disrespect, and you want me to...bring you dessert?”

Corrin’s lips curled into an evil smirk. “Oh, don’t worry. They’re not for me.”

He stared back at her for several moments, before his eyes widened. “You can’t be serious.”

“Deadly.” Corrin grinned, delighting in the abject horror that was dawning on his face. 

“Of all the--” Saizo started, but cut himself off with a growl. “You’re sadistic. But I suppose I should be grateful. And I did say I would accept whatever you decided.”

“Yes,” Corrin said, feeling altogether too pleased with herself. “Yes, you did.” 

“Hmph. Fine.” 

Saizo stood and offered her his hand. She took it and allowed him to pull her up to her feet. She had no idea what had changed. This was a completely different Saizo than the one who had been so cold to her before. What was causing him to flip-flop on her like this? Part of her wanted to bring it up now that he seemed to be more open to her. But she was afraid if she did, the wall would slam right back down again. Maybe it was best to leave it alone and just go with it for now. 

“While I still don’t think you should go on this mission, I see that trying to change your mind is as futile as ever, so I guess that is a moot point. However, I have some conditions for my full cooperation.”

“Go on.”

“First, you are to become my pupil. I will train you in what ninja arts I can and fulfill my role as your master. You in turn must do your best to learn, and quickly, and fulfill your role as my student. Agreeable?”

Corrin nodded firmly.

“Second, I will be the leader of this patrol. In the field, my experience outweighs everything. I will give the orders, and you will follow them without hesitation. This is for your own safety as well as mine; it could mean the difference between life and death.”

Corrin hesitated. As he well knew, she wasn’t the best at obeying orders. Something about it stuck in her craw, but she knew he was right. In this situation, she would need to rely on his experience, so she needed to recognize it. 

He raised an eyebrow at her hesitation.

“Fine,” she conceded.

“Good. Lastly, in all situations, your life takes highest priority. Above mine, above the success of this mission. Getting you back here safely is paramount to everything else. Is that clear? In the worst case scenario, I might give you the order to retreat and abandon both me and the mission. And as you’ve just agreed, you will be obligated to follow that order. Are you prepared to do that?”

Corrin hesitated again. Leave Saizo behind? To die? She could never do that, could she? It went against her nature. It was unthinkable. 

“Corrin.”

“Saizo, I can’t--”

“You can, and you will. Swear it.”

Corrin was silent. 

“I can find more creative ways of leaving you behind, if you’d like.”

“...Fine,” Corrin promised through gritted teeth, “I swear it.”

“Good. Those are my conditions. Is it still your intention to accept this mission?”

Corrin let out a breath and nodded. “Yes. Yes, it is.”

Saizo sighed. “Very well. Go talk to Lord Ryoma. I will see about starting the preparations for our journey....and acquiring some fruit tortes.”