Tine had never been on a 'proper battlefield' before.
That just as much due to the fact that no rebellion had ever grown to the point that it could fight proper battles against the Empire (Prince Shannan is leading one, people in the market whispered, he still hasn't been caught, Dannan is on his last chance) than the fact that her uncle preferred to keep her indoors and 'out of trouble'. That wasn't to say she hadn't been in what could charitably be called 'skirmishes' before; looters, bandits, poachers and other desperate folk were absolutely everywhere, and sometimes they were bold enough to come to the villages close to Alster. Since her uncle's army was busy trying to 'maintain order' in the Manster District, Tine often went out with local guardsmen to ensure the protection of the local villages. Ishtar joined her whenever her schedule permitted it.
She was still tempted to call this a skirmish, even though it was the single biggest one she'd ever experienced. The pirates were close to being on their last legs, and they weren't very well armed (they still had better armaments than the 'poachers' she so often came across) for anything beyond a smash-and-grab. Honestly, any fear she'd felt when she first heard people screaming had long since burned away.
“Ishtar,” Tine gasped as she hurried to keep up with her cousin. Her feet ached a bit, jolts of phantom pain left over from the previous night. “How do we convince the knights we're part of the city guard?”
“Zap a pirate,” Ishtar responded with the faintest ghost of a smile. Tine almost goggled at the sight; Ishtar was so rarely anything but solemn, tired and sad. (When was the last time she saw her smile? Was it the day before Julius picked up that eerie tome?)
“Is – is that really all it takes?”
“Pirates generally aren't savvy enough to use complex tactics; the ones who do are the exception, not the rule,” Ishtar responded as they drew closer to the boat docked a few yards way from the city gates. Then – impossibly! – her smile widened ever so slightly. “Besides, you're far too pretty and well dressed to be a pirate.”
“T-thanks,” Tine managed, feeling her eyes widening to the size of plates. She hoped Ishtar wasn't too exasperated by how surprised she was by the sight of her smiling, no matter how wan the expression was. She quickly turned her head and attentively examined the scene before them.
The young knights had somehow managed to get control of the gangplank, and those among them armed with bows were harassing the pirates still aboard. Thanks to Ishtar's assault, the two remaining boats were no longer side by side, so they couldn't escape by jumping aboard the other still-seaworthy vessel; that left their only two options to be either going below deck in hopes of orchestrating an ambush, or charging down the gangplank to attack their tormentors. That was well-done, Tine thought. I suppose they weren't made knights young for nothing.
The blue-haired teen was standing on the front lines; she walked and held herself like a leader, yet that wasn't stopping her from taking an arrow meant for one of the two archers standing behind her. The brown-haired boy (he was quite handsome, in a mysterious and exotic way; the closest comparison she could make to his coloring and stature was to a Thracian) did not take kindly to that, his posture going from relaxed and cheerful to angry and aggressive in an instant. Tine watched in awe as he shot the next arrow right out of the air, then followed that up with a blindingly quick draw that put an arrow through the eye of the archer who'd injured his commander.
….A commander who did not seem even slightly fazed by the arrow sticking out of her arm, instead stepping forward and swinging the glowing orange-gold blade forward. Again the blade...shattered before Tine's eyes, breaking up into multiple blades as it transformed into a whip and struck two men who'd been standing on the ship railings. This provided the pink-haired girl and the blonde-haired boy to rush up the gangplank without getting shot at. Tine winced as the smell of burnt flesh hit her nose as the men who'd been hit screamed (you got used to that particular smell when Queen Hilda ruled your house), watching the blade in amazement for a moment before she remembered what her job was.
It's dangerous to use magic without a tome to channel it through, but I didn't pick one up in all the confusion. Tine blew out a breath and pointed at one of the men at the gangplank. I'm a daughter of Thrud and Forseti; I don't need one for this!
Thoron's magic circles flared behind her eyes, and she unleashed the blast of concentrated lightning. It flew true and blew the man off the boat, flinging him a couple yards in the process. Ishtar was a couple of seconds behind her; Mjolnir tucked under one arm (there was such a thing as bringing more force than necessary to a fight), she fired off another Thoron that blasted the wyvern that was rising into the air from what looked like the ship's lower deck; it dropped down with a tortured shriek.
Several heads whirled around to stare at them; among them were the blue-haired girl, the brown-haired boy and the older man who was the leader of the detachment judging by how ornate his shining silver armor was. Tine gulped, willing her knees not to shake; the brown haired boy halfway raised his bow before pausing, and then lowering it while eyeing her curiously. “Nice shot,” he called out. His voice was friendly, albeit a bit artificial. “Can we help you?”
“Actually, we're here to help you,” Ishtar corrected, stepping forward to draw the brunt of their attention. “We were working with the city guard to drive off the bandits, and we came this way to reinforce the gate. Might we be of assistance?”
“Of course!” The man boomed exuberantly; he pointed his ax upward out of glee before swinging it toward the boat. “There's not much left to do; stay safe and listen to Sir Eisner's commands.” He slapped a hand on the blue-haired girl's shoulder; she winced a bit and twisted to give him a vaguely bemused look. “We don't want anyone else aside from the bandits to get hurt!”
“Yes sir,” Ishtar said with graceful incline of her head. Tine squeaked and hurriedly mirrored the gesture before skittering nervously towards the blue-haired girl, now identified as Sir Eisner. Upon getting closer, she was startled to realize how tall the other girl was – she was taller than both her and Ishtar, somehow relatively slender and beautiful while still being quite muscular, and... Very solemn looking? Or maybe she was just serious; the look in her blue eyes was difficult to parse. Standing in front of her, Tine couldn't help but feel a little nervous...had they made a bad impression? Was she annoyed at being handed a new variable to worry about mid-battle? Was she sizing them up?
“Sir Alois, please!” One of the nearby knights protested; he had purple hair and a distinct sort of noble bearing – the kind that was fiercely proud of their status and always hungering to take another step up the ladder. Tine instinctively took a step away from him as he approached; Ishtar tensed slightly. “Such drudge labor as this is beneath the dignity of such beautiful women! Surely you aren't insisting we involve them?”
“Are you saying that Teach isn't pretty, Lorenz?” The brown-haired boy asked with a shark-like grin as he drew an arrow. “Ohh, that sounds like you getting extra chores this week!”
The purple-haired boy – Lorenz – sputtered incoherently. Tine waited for the insult to trigger a flurry of blows, but instead the blue haired girl who had been tending to Sir Eisner's shoulder injury burst into a small fit of giggles. She raised a hand to her mouth as though she couldn't believe the sound had escaped her lips; again Tine waited for a blow or angry words.
Instead, the silver haired girl who had been preparing to board before their dramatic entrance let out a loud gasp. “Marianne laughed! I guess you two are good for something after all.” The green-haired boy burst into a fit of startled giggles he frantically tried to muffle while Lorenz started to turn rad; Tine saw Ishtar grow even more tense, ready for things to turn violent. The white-haired girl wasn't worried at all, however.
Nope; she shouldered right past the grinning brown-haired boy and stuck her hand out to Tine, her light violet eyes gleaming with excitement. “Hey you, you have magic, huh?” Tine opened her mouth and closed it with a squeak, her mind whirling as it tried to keep up with the chatter. “Great; your mine.” She promptly seized Tine's hand, pulling her closer. Tine's heart jumped up into her chest; the other girl's smile looked friendly, but what in the world was she so gleeful about-? “We'll pick off any wyverns or archers who try to start something. That's alright, right Professor?”
Sir Eisner blinked twice, looked thoughtful for a moment, and then nodded. “Very well. Bernadetta, you go with them, alright?” The purple-haired girl – who looked like she'd rather be literally anywhere else, her knees were buckling and she kept giving the ship fearful looks – jumped slightly, before forcibly squaring her shoulders and nodding furiously. “Please come with us, miss.” She gestured to Ishtar. “Claude and I are going to board and go after the two captains. If you can keep us covered, that would be appreciated.”
“Done,” Ishtar promised.
“Great; Sir Alois, Sir Shamir, direct the others to rout the rest of the pirates. Be careful,” Sir Eisner finished.
“I'm always careful!” Sir Alois declared. Sir Shamir – the taciturn-looking woman with dark blue hair and an elegant silver bow – rolled her eyes at that and put a hand on his shoulder, pointedly guiding him to the other gangplank. The green-haired boy, the blonde-haired boy (now that Tine was close to him, she realized what was in his hand weren't strange axes, but spiked gauntlets. How very odd!), Lorenz and Marianne (that was the blue-haired girl's name, right?) rushed to follow them.
“C'mon, we have to get into position!” The white-haired girl said urgently, yanking Tine toward and up the gangplank. She yelped and scrambled to right herself, looking up to see the other girl beaming at her. “My name's Lysithea von Ordelia, by the way.”
“T-Tine von Silesse,” She stammered out.
“Huh, never heard that name before...nice to meet you!” Lysithea said cheerfully as they climbed aboard the ship. Her grip was tight but not crushing; now that Tine was getting a good look at her, she noticed her smile was bright and warm, seemingly without reservation.
“W-wait up!” The purple-haired archer – Bernadetta, that was her name, right? – protested, scampering up after them. She was shivering a bit, looking plenty nervous in comparison to Lysithea's confidence; her hands were steady on the bow she was holding, though.
Tine looked over Lysithea's shoulder and saw men on the boat a few yards away from them pointing and shouting. “Um, L-Lady Ordelia, the men-”
Lysithea scrunched up her face. “Oh, don't start getting all formal on me...us young mages have to stick together!” Then she whirled around and cast an unfamiliar spell; a ball of purple-black magic energy flew out from her outstretched fingers across the ocean to slam into one of the men's face.
“Y-You don't have a tome?” Tine asked, startled, as she scrambled to join the other girl at the railings of the boat.
“A tome? What do you mean by that?” Lysithea pointed again, firing the same spell at another area of the bridge. Quickly Tine brought up her own hands, concentrating on Thunder this time as opposed to Thoron. “I learned everything I know from the books, yes, but I don't need to bring them with me.”
Huh? That's odd...do these people just – just not use tomes? But that's so unsafe...!
“I-I don't need them for reminders either. I was just wondering...oh, never mind!” An archer was taking aim at Ishtar and Sir Eisner; Tine quickly cast Thunder at him. She cringed at the chopped off scream he let out after the spell hit home, followed by him toppling over the railing and crashed down into the water.
Bernadetta appeared at her right, aiming and firing at the other men. Tine glanced at her, smiling hesitantly; the other girl looked really nervous – maybe this was her first official sortie? She had good aim, though; a man on the far side of the boat dropped dead after she let the arrow fly. “N-N-Nice to meet you,” The purple haired girl squeaked out, shuffling back a few steps when she realized Tine was looking at her.
“Nice to meet you too...Bernadetta, right?” It was distinctly odd to be faced with another girl who was visibly intimidated by her. Tine had been a prisoner for as long as she could remember; she didn't frighten anyone except visitors to Alster, who only feared her because they knew that her presence meant Hilda or Bloom would be close by.
“Y-Yup. I'm, um, one of Professor Byleth's students.” Bernadetta nodded in the direction of Sir Eisner, who had stood up on the railing as the other boat turned toward them. Ishtar lightly touched her arm and was saying something she was too far away to hear, lifting Mjolnir slightly.
“She's a private tutor, not a knight?” Tine asked, startled. She'd thought Eisner very young to be a knight, but given that strange sword she was using (it had to be a cursed blade of some stripe that she had mastered through willpower and discepline... she'd heard tales from Thracia about a young woman who had transformed the infamous Shadow Sword into her personal weapon, retaining her mind and soul when all who had come before her had failed. Perhaps Eisner was cut from the same cloth.) it at least made sense for her to be on the front lines. But a Professor? A private tutor, all the way out here? At least, she presumed 'Professor' meant private tutor; Bernadetta and Lysithea were too well-fed and well-dressed to be commoners and no school for the common people had lasted long in Jugdral. (They'd briefly surged in use when Arvis first became Emperor, but then the Loptous priests had turned them into hunting grounds for children...)
“She's both,” Lysithea said, tilting her head slightly in surprise. “The Knights of Serios teach classes at the Officer's Academy all the time. Isn't that common knowledge?”
“I'm sorry; I'm not from these lands, so I don't know many particulars,” Tine admitted. Then she saw a familiar light building up in the corner of her eyes and gasped. “Ah, you're going to want to cover your eyes!”
Lysithea looked confused for a second; Bernadetta, by constant, immediately obeyed, so she didn't scream in surprise quite as loudly as the white-haired girl when the blast of lighting burst from Thrud's sacred tome and blew the side of the boat approaching them to smithereens.
“What in the blazing flames was that?!” The orange-haired girl on horseback shrieked, frantically trying to calm her mount as it buckled and scrambled backwards away from the crackling ozone as the spell dissipated.
“Mjolnir's wrath,” Ishtar responded calmly, pocketing the tome as both the brown-haired boy and Sir Eisner rounded on her after recovering from their surprise. “The power of the storm, passed down by my ancestor Thrud. I apologize for the surprise, but it's best that we ended this quickly.”
“...We, I think, have a lot to talk about,” The brown-haired boy said, the air of false-casualness in his voice concealing falcon-like intensity. It made Tine shiver...she was acutely aware that everyone was staring at Ishtar, including Lysithea and Bernadetta.
“True,” Ishtar said quietly. She'd noticed it too; her voice had locked up into the calm, even politeness that she used whenever they were in Belhalla.
I hope we didn't just make a mistake.
“Let's finish up here first,” Sir Eisner said, still surprisingly calm. “Hilda, where are you?”
Tine's whole body jerked like she'd been hit by lightning; she whirled around, arms raised to defend herself, eyes scanning frantically for some way to escape, she's here she's here how could she be here-?
“Right here!” The pink-haired girl said, her cheery voice a little disjointed by shock but otherwise completely genuine sounding. The bloody ax in her hand still made Tine gulp reflexively, even as her rational brain reasserted itself and she remembered where she was. Hilda can't be here. She was in Alster with Bloom; the light only took me and Ishtar...
A hand touched her shoulder, causing her to flinch and turn around to find herself facing a concerned-looking Lysithea. “Are you okay?” The white haired girl asked, her brow furrowed with worry.
“Y-Yes, I'm alright. I was just startled...I'm sorry,” Tine managed when she could get her vocal cords to work.
Neither Lysithea nor Bernadetta looked fully convinced by that. Neither sneered at her, though; they both wore fairly gentle expressions. This place is weird, Tine thought definitively. And it was almost starting to feel familiar, too...
“Freege and Silesse...” Sir Shamir shook her head minutely. “Sorry, you've been taken far from home. I've never heard of principalities going by those names.” She eyed Mjolnir, which sat closed on the table in front of Ishtar, with a degree of wariness.
Ishtar's shoulders slumped; Tine let her head drop onto the table with a shaky sigh. “I suspected as much,” Her cousin confessed, sounding incredibly tired. “I have no idea how long we were unconscious, but I'd hoped we'd at least be in somewhat familiar territory. But this? I...don't know how to proceed. We have little money and no roof over our heads except for the church's charity, and I don't know how long sanctuary lasts in these parts.”
“How terrible!” Sir Alois said. He had a loud and dramatic voice that made Tine instinctively flinch away from him, even though he seemed to be genuinely friendly. (Of course, Julius had periods of time where he was genuinely friendly. A little caution was always prudent.) “For such brave and compassionate young women to be torn from everything familiar and flung into an unknown world...a terrible fate indeed! It cannot be borne.”
Tine raised her head an inch to eyeball the brown-haired boy, now identified as Claude von Riegan, soon to be Duke Riegan – head of the Alliance Council. He was openly watching her and Ishtar with eyes that gleamed with both curiosity and calculation; his smile was warm, but it didn't go all the way up to his emerald eyes. The warmth was genuine, yet...
His eyes flickered to her, noticing her gaze; he winked at her, his smile widening a bit. Tine quickly hid her head in her arms again, her heart thudding in her ribs.
After the last of the pirates had been dealt with, the Knights of Serios had checked on the town guard to make sure everyone was all right, then taken them into one of the town's two restaurants. Riegan had wasted zero time jumping on Ishtar and throwing question after question about both themselves and Mjolnir at her. Sir Eisner had insisted on checking both of them for injuries, not being swayed until she was assured with her own eyes that neither of them were hurt. (What an odd lady.) Sir Shamir and Sir Alois were the ones who finally quieted Riegan long enough to ask about where they were from, leading to the confirmation of their greatest concern – they were no longer in Jugdral.
What were they going to do? Where should they go? How were they going to eke out a life here?
The child hunts weren't here. The Cult of Loptous wasn't here. Hilda wasn't here.
Tine took a deep breath. Her mind was in a haze; she still kept expecting to wake up, be lifted from the illusion to find herself in the Granvelle medical wing. The battle with the pirates had put most of her theories about life and death to rest – she was still alive, and this all felt real – but how could it be? How could she just...vanish from the world that had bound her in its chains in the blink of an eye?
“Sanctuary? My goodness, what sort of church worth its salt puts a time limit on Sanctuary?” Sir Alois demanded, almost sounding offended. Ishtar started; he beamed at the two of them. “Come with us back to the monastery! The Church of Serios is dedicated to protecting and caring for those who are lost and have nothing but their clothes and shoes to their names.”
“Garreg Mach Monastery is the heart of the Central Church,” Sir Eisner offered as Ishtar blinked rapidly and Tine raised her head again. “There's room and board provided to the homeless free of charge, as well as one of the largest libraries in all of Fodlan, a section of which is purely dedicated to maps of the known world. You might be able to find a way home with the extra information.”
“Plus is one of the most secure places in Fodlan,” Riegan added. “So it'll be hard for anyone to steal your storm-throwing tome from you if you stay there.”
Ishtar let out a little, startled laugh. “Mjolnir is useless to anyone but myself and Tine,” She said with a light shake of her head. “And Tine can only use half of its power, since she inherited the minor Thrud blood from my aunt as opposed to the major that I possess. Anyone else who attempted to use the tome would be burned to death by its innate power; even in the hands of others with Holy Blood, it would just be an ornate paper weight.”
Mjolnir pulsed with magic at the words. Sometimes Tine pondered the fanciful notion that Thrud's tome was alive, reacting to the horrors around it in minute ways. There was one time when Hilda had been about to flog her for taking food from the castle to feed some of the villagers, only for an enormous crack of thunder to ring through the room right as she blew off Ishtar's increasingly desperate attempts to dissuade her. Hilda had jumped out of her skin, looked out the window to see a perfectly clear sky, and instead ordered the guards to lock her in her room for the next few days.
It was the only time she'd seen that devil woman look alarmed.
“So you two do have Crests,” Lysithea said, with the voice of one seeking clarification. Tine suddenly felt a hand patting her on the back; she jolted a bit and looked up to see the pink-haired Hilda looking down at her with a little concern and a friendly smile. She did her best to smile back, murmuring 'I'm fine, really,' as she sat up slightly.
“I'm afraid I've never heard that terminology,” Ishtar said, her brow furrowed in puzzlement. “My ancestor Thrud was given the blessings of the god of storms in order to free Judgral from the grip of the Cult of Loptous. The blood is passed down through the family, with the firstborn child generally inheriting the Major Blood barring some exceptions while the younger children inherit the minor. There is only one 'Crest' I know of that isn't a coat of arms; its the Fire Emblem, the symbol of justice that the house of Fjalar bears.”
“Huh. So the goddess isn't the only one who hands out helpful miscellaneous powers when her silly humans find themselves in a bind,” Claude chuckled. He held out his hand and twisted it so his palm faced the ceiling; a moment later, there was a bright glow of golden light, and... a symbol rose from his wrist, forming a beautiful crescent moon floating in the air. Ishtar leaned forward slightly, eyes wide with both bewilderment and a small amount of fascination. “This is the Crest of Riegan, the major one. It's one of the twelve blessings the goddess gave to humanity over a thousand years ago to save them from demons and dark gods that had been hunting us since the Great Cataclysm. I also happen to have a relic weapon that was handed down to me through my family, though I haven't seen it yet; each house that bears a Crest has one.”
“How curious,” Ishtar whispered, brow furrowed. “For our two lands to have that in common, despite being so far away from each other.”
“So you two aren't sisters?” Pink-haired Hilda asked in surprise. “I could have sworn you were, with how similar you look.”
“Ah, silver hair runs in the family,” Tine mumbled, a little embarrassed. Functionally Ishtar was all but a sister to her, and Ishtore her older brother, but that wasn't quite the reality of it. “My mother was Ishtar's aunt; I'm a branch member of the Thrud family, my father being King Lewyn of Silesse.”
“You're a princess?” Bernadetta squeaked. “W-Wow...”
“We both are, though Freege is one of the larger principality of Granvelle as opposed to a fully independent kingdom.” Ishtar said before sighing and rubbing her forehead. “Not that either of our royal credentials count for much so far from home. I'm afraid we have no choice but to ask for the church's continued sanctuary, because we have little money and only one set of clothes aside from what the local abbey generously provided for us.”
“No trouble, your highness, no trouble at all!” Alois proclaimed. “We shall see you safely to Garreg Mach, where goddess willing an answer to your difficulties may present itself!”
Tine did her best to smile in return.
Well, we have an actual living situation ahead of us. …Where's the catch? It can't be this easy. No kindness has ever been offered this freely without something being demanded in return. What is lingering underneath the happiness Fodlan seemingly enjoys at will?