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Chapter 22 – An Equal Place

“Mercie.” Annette gripped Mercedes’ right shoulder. There, right in front of the Kingdom army, stood the infamous Stubborn Old General. “It’s not too late; you don’t have to force yourself to battle with your brother. I’m sure Dimitri would say the same.”

“It’s like your father said, Annie. Emile wouldn’t fall for any tricks… This head-on assault is the only way.”

“If that’s how you feel, then I support you,” spoke a voice from behind.

“Dimitri, you’re late!” Felix scolded. “We need our prince at the forefront!”

“Sorry, just taking care of some… uh, business. Anyway… Mercedes, you’re right – we need to give this battle all we’ve got. But… stay safe out there.” And just like that, Dimitri’s demeanour changed from a kind prince to a fierce one eager to see the Empire crushed. “All forces, charge!”

“Sir! The enemy has breached the main gate!” An Adrestian soldier reported.

“So…” The Death Knight stared absentmindedly into the bloodshed already occurring. “Will death’s scythe claim you, or will I fall to that sword of yours…”

“Yaaah!” shouted Mercedes as a Bolganone flew just past the Death Knight’s helmet.

“That… woman…” The Death Knight snapped out of this state. Before he knew it, the Scythe of Sariel guided him to his sister, deflecting a stray spell right back at her.

“Aaaah!” The recoil from the fall sent the Tathlum Bow across the ground, leaving Mercedes prone and helpless. “Emile…”

“You. Leave.”

Mercedes relocated the Tathlum Bow and used it to help her up. “No! I won’t run form you anymore, Emile!”

Though normally a ruthless soldier, the scythe he pointed at Mercedes shook in his hands. “Dear sister… Please, I don’t want to hurt you.”

Mercedes’ aim at her foe wavered, too, but her expression was one of resolve.

“If that’s how you feel, then I have no choice but to- Huh? Who are you?”

Before Mercedes could fire a shot, another soldier had pushed her back to block the scythe strike.

“Hear my name and tremble! Miklan Anschutz Gautier is the one who is going to send you to the netherworld today!”

“So, this is the failed son of House Gautier, eh?” At this point, the Death Knight diverted all of his attention from Mercedes. “A little desperate to prove ourselves, aren’t we?”

“And what better way to do it than to slice you like lumber?” Miklan front-flipped, nearly knocking the Death Knight off of his horse.

Miklan had cut so close to him that the Death Knight noticed the Crest of Gautier glowing through his armour. “Your weak, artificial Crest is no match for mine.”

“You mean that healing Crest you never even use, because all you do is kill?” Miklan rammed his shoulder into the horse, and successfully knocked the Death Knight off of it this time.

“Not once… since facing that professor of yours have I found an opponent as strong as you…” The Death Knight felt a brief dizziness as he got back up, then continued his usual vicious fighting style. “But I am stronger!”

“Yeah?” Miklan pushed his lance forward into a small weak spot in the Death Knight’s armour. “Now do you think so? You couldn’t even protect your own sister… And you call that strong?”

“You… speak too much.” The Death Knight could feel his rage building, and positioned the Scythe behind him blade down. “I’ll tear your throat out.”

With a swift motion Miklan couldn’t detect, the Scythe cut him across the throat and chest – and had he been a couple of inches forward, his vocal cords would have been gone.

“Miklan! Ouch!” Mercedes, still wounded from her earlier encounter with the Death Knight, crawled to Miklan as her hands glowed. “I’ll heal you right up-”

“You… scum…” A dark magic surrounded the Death Knight’s scythe. “You know nothing about what my sister and I have been through – what lengths I had to go through to protect her from the most disgusting men in this world!”

“Argh…” Miklan groaned as the Death Knight stepped on his chest, causing more blood to pour out. “M-Mercedes… Do it… Shoot an arrow at him; you’ve got a clear shot!”

“I’ll kill you, too,” the Death Knight declared as a fully charged Death Γ spell now imbued the Scythe. “Pray to that worthless goddess of yours. You have five seconds to do it before I kill you.”

“I just pray that we can both meet in the afterlife,” Mercedes spoke weakly as she didn’t have strength to unleash magic or pull back her bowstring.

He hesitated for about two seconds – and that would be the Death Knight’s last mistake. “Get off of my brother, scumbag.”

“It’s… It’s…” Miklan’s vision slowly began to return as he was able to sit up now. The first thing he saw was the tip of the Lance of Ruin piercing the Death Knight’s chest. “Sylvain?”

“Okay, that’s the last of them…” Dimitri interrupted the scene, and his relief was quickly replaced with sorrow. “Oh, goddess… Mercedes, you know what to do.”

“Right!” Mercedes released a Fortify spell, and her surrounding allies had healed – but her brother had not. “Emile…”

The Death Knight had barely enough life left in him to speak. “Mercedes…”

“I’m so sorry!” Mercedes cried as she caressed the head of her dying brother. “If… If I hadn’t left you and House Bartels… I am the most terrible sister, aren’t I?”

“No, it’s my fault… If… If only I had killed that disgusting father… of mine sooner… I… Urgh!”

“Emile…” Mercedes buried her face into her brother’s corpse. “I know I said I would fight for what I believe in, but… It… doesn’t make this… hurt any less…”

“Mercie, I’m sorry…” Annette let her friend grieve a while before saying, “But we need to go, now.”

“I know, I’m sorry…” Mercedes got up and gave her friend a hug. “Thank you, Annie.”

“And, uh… thank you for saving me,” Miklan cut in.

“No, you saved us!

“Which I find odd…” Sylvain remarked as the soldiers began to cuff him and Miklan again. “Why did you try to save us this time?”

“Just… returning the favour for you saving me from that Thales guy. Speaking of, what happened to that bastard, anyway?”

“His Highness fell him in battle himself.”

“…I see.” Miklan resisted the smile about to come out.

“Men, release Sylvain from his prisoner status at once,” Dimitri ordered.

“What?” Dedue naturally didn’t like this news. “But after what he’s done-”

“Don’t you mean after what I’ve done? I’ve been brutal enough already… I owe it to Rodrigue – and all of Faerghus’ citizens – to show more compassion. I owe it to Rodrigue to care better for his son’s best friend. Plus, the people of Gautier have such immense respect for Sylvain and the margrave. Not only that, but he killed one of the Empire’s strongest soldiers.”

Sylvain squirmed at his fiancé merely being addressed as a “friend,” but tolerated it as he could finally be free of the chains again.

“Hmph. Be thankful that His Highness is so forgiving,” Dedue grumbled.

“Yeah, yeah… And I can be forgiving too! Why don’t you lighten up? …Ah, forget it.” Sylvain turned his attention now to Miklan, who had not begun to walk to his new cell at Fort Merceus. “Thanks, man.”

“Whatever for? You’re the one who killed the Death Knight with the Relic I should have gotten to keep.”

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t have done it without your help.”

“…Okay, if you really want to know, I just wanted to try belonging somewhere peaceful for a change. And I figured… maybe Dimitri’s Kingdom really will be an equal place. I’m curious to see it.”

“Miklan…”

“If only to see if Dimitri really would let you marry Felix.”

“Shh! His Highness doesn’t know yet!”

“Well, he’s not dumb as a back of rocks, so it won’t take him long to figure it out.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Sylvain knew his speaking time with Miklan was up, and now began to return to the fort with Felix. “I’d like to see that, too.”