Disclaimer: I do not own Fire Emblem, its characters or anything from that world. I'm just a writer trying to tell the tale of an amnesiac tactician.
Chapter 6: A Brief Moment's Respite
With a single stroke from his blade, Kent freed Lyn and Natalie from their bindings. Although it was worrisome that they were unconscious, a quick examination from Kent revealed that they were only asleep.
I turned and looked out from one of the crumbling walls. The sun shone crimson through the thinning pearlescent fog, a fiery orb distorted by the shifting mist. It hung low in the sky, soon to be replaced by the brilliant moon. It appeared that more time had passed then I believed, slipping away like water from cupped hands.
With a sigh, I leaned against the wall and watched as the others set up camp. While Dorcas's village was not far away, it was best to stay here and recuperate. The fog would keep us relatively safe until nightfall when we would then be under the cover of darkness. It was also better than attempting to leave and being struck down by stray bandits. This position, at least, was defensible in that event.
Dorcas and Wil unpacked the supplies and began setting up the tent. Florina left, likely to gather firewood from around this ruined fortress. The knights followed her after gently placing Lyn and Natalie against a wall near the tents. They didn't state what they intended to do, but I assumed that they were going to take care of the bodies. Professionalism at its finest. Tactful as well, taking it upon themselves to spare the younger folks from a gruesome task and allowing Dorcas to keep an eye on his wife. It amused me almost to see how well this group worked together. Despite their short time together, everyone operated in tandem, like the parts of a well-oiled machine.
Since I wasn't needed, I took the time to relax and reflect upon recent events. I vaguely noticed that my body was still numb and felt cold to the touch. Karel had slipped away like a demon of the mist shortly after he left the chamber we were in. That's not to say he left quietly, however. There were more than a few death cries after his departure.
That thought brought another shiver to my body. To think that we- no, that Iwould encounter the sword demon here of all places. And that I lived to tell the tale… it was unfathomable.
I see myself wielding a blade and facing off against an unknown foe.
Bloodlust rages in his eyes and his long black hair billows in the wind.
An unseen signal is given, and then I charge with a speed surpassing Lyn's while dealing five strikes in a single second.
I shook my head as I recalled that scene. An unplaced memory only recently brought to light. Is that what let me face him? Had I done it before...?
I shook my head once more. It was no use to further that train of thought. At the moment, it holds no significance to the group's agenda, that of reaching Caelin and presenting Lyn to her remaining family. However, the name that the Sword Demon called me brought up more questions that I didn't need.
"The Bernese Blight..."
I tried that name a few times, muttering it under my breath. It was foreign, unknown to me. A name it was but it didn't seem familiar. The title given to the one who had become the scourge of Bern, slaying dozens of Wyvern platoons and nobles. As much as I wanted to set it aside, it was something that I could not. I needed to know.
But do you really want to know?
I jerked my head and looked around. At the moment, only Wil and Dorcas could have spoken. But that voice… it was neither of them.
The truth… it will devastate you.
I looked around again. That voice echoed in my head. It was more than just a little unsettling hearing it. I waited for it to speak again but it seemed that it wouldn't deign to do so a third time.
I sighed and slumped back against the wall. A shiver passed through me and I pulled my cloak close to myself but it did nothing to help with the cold. Numb and exhausted, I didn't notice Florina approach me and jumped when I felt her hand on my forehead.
"Oh! I-I'm sorry Mark. You looked pale and I-"
She flinched and started to draw her hand back but frowned and put it back on my forehead. Too weak to protest, I let her do so, feeling a bit relieved at the first feeling of warmth for a while.
"Mark… are you sick? You feel cold to the touch…"
I was unable to respond, my mind suddenly sluggish and heavy in contrast to my featherweight body.
"Mark…? Mark! Are you alright?"
I saw that Florina was worried but I couldn't focus on her. Everything began to blur and shift, my vision slipping away.
Ah. I remember now. This happens when I strain myself too much…
A boy… Mark stood against a group of faceless students. He looked older now, his mousy brown hair longer and well-kept. He seemed the same age as-
The scene paused and wavered but continued.
Mark's green eyes were harsh and unforgiving as he glared at the students, the emerald orbs holding a fire within that threatened to lash out and scorch those that scorned him and his. How could those students not cower in front of such authority?
He looked briefly at each member among the group before settling his gaze at a single person standing at the head. Holding that eye contact, Mark said, "Stop hurting Eva."
Contrary to his burning eyes, his words were cold, final. An ultimatum. And though he had held the students captive with his gaze, the trance was broken at those words. He was met with jeers and taunts, the unruly group left unchecked. There were no adults in sight, no one to mediate and nothing to prevent the inevitable conflict.
The scene panned out to show an empty school, the orange sky telling that classes had ended long ago. The grounds were void of all persons save these people.
One of the faceless students stepped up, the same who Mark settled his gaze on, his gait and manner dripping with arrogance and hubris as he sauntered forwards. From the looks of it, he was in charge of the group of students.
"Hoh? So the mutt thinks he can bark at the wolf, eh?"
He turned back to his group and laughed, the pack imitating him in kind. A faceless girl appeared next to the boy and said, "You tell him darling!"
Mark glared. "I will not repeat myself. From today onwards you will cease harassing Eva."
Again, the words from Mark were cold, almost disturbing coming from the young man. No one should be able to speak like that. The sheer frost of those words could only come from someone who knew and embraced violence, someone who could strip themselves of all emotion and offer the single option of death.
Unfortunately, it had no effect on the group as they all laughed again, ignoring Mark. The first faceless student was the loudest of them all, almost falling into a hysterical fit. Their laughter did have a noticeable undercurrent of nervousness however.
After a moment, the leader of the students stood back up and wiped away a tear. "You're funny," he said. He straightened and strode towards Mark. "But what makes you think she doesn't want it? After all, she never protests. She never argues against it. Besides, it's her business and not yours. Right guys?" The pack answered with a cheer of "Yeah!". Mark didn't respond, only pausing to put on some leather gloves.
Satisfied with the answer, the leader turned back and said, "See? So why don't you just go along and mind your own business."
The girl who stood next to the leader nodded and said, "Yeah! And why should we stop? It's too much fun! Especially when she puts on that broken smile-"
They never saw it coming.
With brutal efficiency, he lashed out at the closest of Eva's tormenters with his gloved fist. A sharp crack resounded throughout the grounds and the outspoken leader had fallen. The shallow movement of his chest showed that he was still breathing. With his descent, there was silence, then a scream and cries of outrage.
"What the hell? Did he just-?"
Mark did not waste any words in response. He strode forward, ready to strike the next tormenter. Some of the more foolish and brash stepped forward. Without pause, they too were felled in the same manner. Mark's speed was undeniable, and his efficiency even more so. He systematically took advanced and downed all of the students. Although he sustained some injuries, they were light.
Within a minute, he alone stood amidst the empty grounds. Looking upon them with a cold gaze, Mark pulled out a bandana and tossed it to the ground.
"Stop them," Mark said quietly. " And make them regret even thinking about harming Eva. I need to frame it. An accident… a fight between rival gangs. No witnesses…"
Whispering this mantra to himself, Mark walked to each student and doled out crippling blows, each ensuring that these… monsters would never think about hurting Eva again, let alone be able to do so.
The scene shifted to show Mark knocking on a door. It was opened by a beautiful girl with flowing blonde hair, wearing a white blouse and skirt. She smiled, but her face looked marred with sadness.
Mark ignored that and returned it with a brilliant smile, all traces of the cold persona gone. "Hi there Eva," he said cheerfully.
Eva gasped as she saw Mark's hands. They were bruised and bloodied. Eva grabbed them before Mark could pull away and said, "Mark! What happened?"
He shrugged, but made a point to not look her in the eyes.
"…It's nothing. Just a minor problem that needed to be sorted out. Needless to say, you won't be bothered again."
Eva gasped and dropped Mark's hands. "Mark… you didn't..."
He shook his head.
"I had to stop them. If I didn't, then you would never get rest. People like them… they don't know to stop unless dealt with properly."
Eva frowned and her eyes became glassy. "But Mark… they were just kidding… harmless jokes…"
A dangerous gleam leapt into Mark's eyes. "You call shocking you with tasers harmless? Or shredding your textbooks so that you can't do your work? Or lacing your lunch with a chemical that made you sick for weeks? You call THAT harmless?"
Eva smiled, but it looked forced. Fake. A porcelain smile that would shatter with the slightest pressure.
"It's alright Mark. I'm… used to-"
Mark stepped forward until their faces were barely apart. Eva turned, unable to meet Mark's eyes.
"No. Don't even start say that. You know as well as I do what a lie that is."
He sighed and said, "Eva… you mean too much to me for that. Don't ever lie to yourself like that. Don't think that you aren't worth protecting… you are. I promised didn't I? I'll protect you. Now, in the future... always. So don't worry. This is nothing. You don't have to worry about repercussions. I'll take responsibility, although I doubt that will happen. I made sure to lay a proper trail."
Mark turned his back to Eva. "I'll make sure you can be happy… I'll make it so that you can give me a true smile again. Even if you don't want me anymore… I'll be your knight."
Mark left, but as he did, he missed Eva's forlorn look and sad smile.
"Again… you're the one saving me," she said. "Even though I…"
She trailed off, but her unspoken words were clear:
"I should be the one saving you from this fate…"
I was disoriented and confused from what I had seen. Mark, myself, assaulting a group of students in defense of Eva. And then I had confronted her and…
"Does this always happen?"
Who was that? The speaker sounded meek and demure. Florina?
"Yes. We don't know why, but every time that he over-exerts himself he seems to just… shut down. I hoped that with the seizure he had passed the worst of it but…"
A calm voice with an exotic lilt, tinged with worry. It was very familiar to me… Lyn? Was she up already?
"It seems that he does not have an ordinary case of amnesia, if it is that at all." She paused for a moment before continuing. "Watch over him for me will you Florina? Kent wishes to discuss something with me."
"Yes Lyn. But be careful!" Florina admonished. "I don't want to see you get kidnapped again!"
Lyn laughed. "I'll do my best."
I heard footsteps leave and a small sigh as a weight settled against me. I then heard and felt a blanket being placed around me. I desperately wanted to open my eyes but with the warmth of the blanket and whatever was leaning against me, I couldn't help but drift off into Morpheus' embrace.
The next thing I knew was that, for once, I was well rested. After that was the fact that Florina's sleeping face was inches away from my own.
I was startled and almost bolted upright, but calmed myself after seeing her peaceful slumbering face. It would be too cruel to wake her now. I smiled a little and then leaned back to get some more sleep. It was nice to be able to rest like this at times.
"Well isn't that cute! The brilliant tactician and the shining Pegasus knight, supporting each other even in slumber!"
My eyes opened with a start and I saw that everyone had gathered around and were watching Florina and I with various degrees of amusement. I focused a glare on Sain, who had said those words. He responded with a round of laughter and applause.
Florina jumped away from me, taking the blanket with her, and dashed behind Lyn, who had also been looking at us with an amused smile. She looked cute, like a toddler with their blanket.
"…I see you two have bonded very well," Lyn said with a smile.
I sighed and shook my head.
Lyn laughed, while Kent walked over to me and said, "Dorcas has returned Natalie to their home and we've packed our belongings. If you are able, then we must depart immediately."
I nodded and stood up, shaking my cloak once to get rid of lingering wrinkles. I smiled as it finally seemed warm to my body. "Alright everyone," I said. "Let's go."
With those words, we left the fortress and mounted our steeds. It didn't take long to descend the mountains as we were near the bottom but the journey from there onwards was difficult. Harsh, biting winds blew from the north as we rode. There were no trees to shelter us, only the barren grasslands from here to the border. In addition, the sun was now low in the sky from the long journey.
I shivered, my cloak providing little protection from this cold. It was sad considering how it had just become warm not too long ago. My hands felt as if they were melded with the reins that they held. It wouldn't be too surprising if they did. It was more than cold enough.
I looked to my companions to see that they were in similar states. Well, except Florina. She looked to be at home amidst the freezing weather. Riding on top of Huey, she performed complex aerial maneuvers above us at breathtaking speeds.
"How can she stand this weather dressed like that?" I muttered, shaking my head. "Must be that Ilian blood…
I looked over towards the knights. They had taken to their liege's sides, shielding her from the wind on both sides. Despite this, Lyn was shivering. Being of the Sacae plains, which remain relatively warm year-round, she was not suited to this weather. Still, she didn't submit to the cold and was doing her best to endure it.
"H-how much further Kent?" she asked.
"Not far milady. We should arrive at the inn at the crossing soon enough."
Lyn nodded, another shiver passing through her. I pitied her. In her thin clothing, she felt the full brunt of the cold. I would offer her my cloak, but I need that more at the moment. In this weather, well, it was everyone for themselves.
I clenched my teeth and looked forwards, towards the distant inn. We weren't far now, only a few minutes away. Just a little longer and we would be there, safe, warm and with cozy beds.
"But why is it so cold? I could have sworn it was spring when I first set out with Lyn." I muttered my complaint while spurring my horse to go faster.
Snow had started to fall, gentle flakes that were scattered across the area by the harsh winds. I watched them, transfixed by their beauty as they drifted towards the ground. As I did, I noticed something. I knew this area.
We passed by a grove of trees near a hill, and for a moment I felt nostalgic. I remembered being here some time ago. I was with a group, just like this. We were heading to Lycia and… something happened. Something is supposed to happen. A flash of pink and purple flickered in front of my eyes but faded before I could focus on it. What was it?
I was shaken from my thoughts by Kent's voice. In front of us was the inn, the final stop for travelers heading to and from Lycia.
Like most buildings in this area, it was rustic and wooden. But unlike most buildings, this inn was large. A staircase encircled the building, allowing access to a second level. From the row of windows, there appeared to be many rooms on that floor. It was the same for the first floor. Over the entrance to the inn hung a simple wooden sign with the name "Rita's Tavern". Attached to the building was a stable large enough to house over a dozen horses.
"So this is where we will be staying tonight?" I said. My voice was lost amidst the howling winds, and the question went unanswered. I shrugged and dismounted my horse, motioning for the others to do the same. As we dismounted, Sain strode in front of the inn's door and made a grandiose gesture.
"Ah, Rita's tavern! The mistress is said to be a beauty and the food she serves are Lycia's finest! Food and love… what better way to restore a man's soul! And amidst this harsh weather, her beauty and hospitality will be even more striking!"
Kent bopped Sain on the head. "Your behavior is as deplorable as ever. Were it not for this weather, I would have said we stay elsewhere."
Sain grinned at his companion. "Ah, how fortunate I am then! Come Kent, there's much I need to teach you now that we're here…"
Without pause, Sain dragged Kent inside, disregarding his spluttering protests, leaving us all with the horses. We glanced at each other, unsure what to make of the situation. Deciding to take charge, I said, "Well. I'll take care of the horses. Would you mind arranging our rooms Lyn? I believe that both our knights will be… unsuited for the task for quite a while."
"Um… I'll help him." Florina said. That prompted both Lyn and I to raise an eyebrow.
"Florina… are you sure?" Lyn asked.
Florina nodded. I shrugged and began leading the horses. I didn't mind her company. It was better than nothing I suppose.
Wil and Dorcas followed Lyn inside while Florina followed me. I handed her the reins to a pair of the horses and we headed towards the stable.
The snow and wind had increased in speed and intensity during the time we walked. Hm. It looks like Lyn was right about the weather taking a turn for the worse.
I frowned. If that's the case, then our journey will be delayed for a while. It's unfortunate, but inevitable. Well, at least it'll be a break from fighting. Lord knows we needed it.
This was a great opportunity to get to know everyone. Ah, I needed to talk to Sain as well. That man… he knows something. He might look and act like a fool but he definitely was not.
"Um… Mark? We're here."
I blinked and looked around. We had reached the stable while I was lost in my ponderings. Again. I need to stop doing that.
I smiled. "Thanks Florina."
I led the horses I was leading to an empty stall, making sure each was comfortable before I went on with the next. Florina did the same, although I noticed she lingered when it was Huey's turn. She whispered something into his ears, making him snort. Florina blushed again and walked over to me.
"Done sharing your secrets with Huey?" I teased.
Her face turned a deep crimson but she nodded. I turned and walked towards the door that connected to the inn, Florina trailing behind me.
"Well, let's see what made Sain so happy to be here…"
I opened the door and stepped into the main building. From where I was, I could see the layout of the floor. It was quite spacious. Near the front door, where we had first arrived, was a bar. A long counter partitioned a portion of the wall where the raven-haired barista was cleaning out a crystal mug. Copious bottles of alcohol, ranging from ale to fine wine, sat on shelves behind him. Some battle-hardened mercenaries were sitting at the stools there, sipping some ale served by the barista. He noticed me staring and gave me a curt nod. I nodded back, and looked around some more.
Past the bar was a door, which I saw led to a long hallway when a blue-haired merchant opened it. Doors lined the hallway, likely opening to some of the many rooms in this inn.
Directly to my right were tables, circular, rectangular and otherwise, where some of the other guests at this inn were eating. A brief glimpse of pink and purple caught my eye but I disregarded them for the moment. Further down was another door, where some waiters and waitresses were entering and exiting with trays of food. Judging from that, it was probably the kitchen.
Overall, I was surprised. The inn looked more like an Etrurian café for students than an inn. The tables and waitresses furthered that image. It appeared that Sain had good reason to choose this place. I only hoped that we had enough gold to cover our boarding costs.
For the most part, our companions were scattered among the various tables. I noticed that the knights weren't present but tactfully decided to ignore their absence.
"Um… Mark? Can we sit? I think some people are staring at us…"
Florina's words were soft as usual but she sounded a bit shaken. I looked at her and saw that her eyes were wide and glancing all over the room. Her shoulders were tense and her lips quivering.
I turned to Florina and hung my head. "I apologize, I had forgotten your timid nature for a moment Florina. Come, let's sit."
She nodded but still looked tense. I didn't see Lyn anywhere, so I took Florina to a vacant table, away from most of the other guests and sat down. She visibly relaxed as soon as she sat and let out an audible breath.
"Better?" I asked.
She gave me a small smile and nodded.
One of the waitresses came over and set down two glasses of water, along with a pair of menus. She had red hair but it tended more towards auburn then the flame red that was Kent's. She appeared to be the social and friendly type, and she looked concerned when she saw how pale Florina was.
"Take your time and just call one of us over when you're ready to order, ok?" she said gently. "Your friend, Lyn, has already covered your boarding costs, so don't worry about it."
I nodded and gave her a quick smile. When she had gone, I turned my attention back to Florina.
She was still a little pale, but was calming down quickly. The water helped, I suppose. She noticed me staring and blushed.
"U-um… is there something on my face?"
I shook my head and looked at the menu. Surprisingly, there was a large variety of selections. The menu ranged from elaborate Lycian specialties to simple foods like sandwiches.
"Hm… I think some sandwiches would be good. Anything you want Florina?"
"Oh… yes, that'd be good."
I waved over one of the servers and ordered our food. It would be some time before the food was prepared, as there were many others trapped by the terrible weather. Curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to ask Florina about herself.
"Oh… um… where should I start?" She replied with a soft-spoken voice.
I thought about that for a little, and then said, "Tell me about your family."
Florina played with her hair for a bit, lost in thought, but then said, "I'm the youngest of three sisters. Um… they're both Pegasus knights as well."
I nodded and she continued. "My eldest sister is named Fiora. She's… um." Florina blushed at this point and said, "She's my role model. She's the reason why I wanted to become a Pegasus knight."
I nodded again, easily seeing the connection. Any younger sibling would admire their elders. As the youngest, it was no surprise that Florina would admire her sister Fiora.
"M-my other sister is Farina. Um… she and my other sister had a… falling out a few years back. We haven't talked since."
"O-oh. That doesn't mean she's bad! It's just… um…"
Florina played with her hair again, though I noticed her fingers were fidgety. "After our father died from pneumonia, our mother took care of us. But…" Florina looked downcast, but continued speaking. "Life was hard. You know how it is… Ah, sorry. I forgot that you don't remember…"
I shook my head. "I remember a little about Ilia. But it's only bits and pieces, really. Please, tell me."
"W-well, the only way to make money in Ilia was to fight. Ah. That's why Ilia is known for its mercenaries. Um…" Florina pulled her hair, lost in thought again. "Ah, that's right. After my father died, we didn't have much money. The guild gave us a pension for his… death, but it was barely enough."
Florina's lips trembled. "And then my mother died…"
I frowned, not expecting that. It appeared that she and Lyn had a lot more in common then I had accounted for… and I had not been tactful when asking my question.
"Forgive me Florina, it appears I had forgotten tact once more."
"N-no, it's alright…"
I felt more than a bit awkward, not expecting to learn so many personal details about her. Hadn't I just intended to familiarize myself with her so that I can better guide her in combat?
I shook away those thoughts and paid attention to Florina as she began talking again.
"S-she died like my father did. I… think it was too stressful, raising the three of us by herself." Florina averted her eyes as she continued. "I… think that was why Farina left as well. She and Fiora… they were both left to raise me." She paused as a waitress, the same one that gave us the menu, delivered our food. We both gave thanks and she walked away.
"Wow," I began, "You've… had a hard life."
Florina nodded and began nibbling at her sandwich. I did the same, surprised at the exceptional quality of the sandwich. Tender meat, fresh greens, perfectly toasted bread and a savory dressing... I couldn't keep away a broad grin from filling my face.
Florina noticed it and laughed, a cute sound, like chiming bells, but more… melodic? Innocent? Regardless, it made me happy to hear it.
"You like it?"
I was suddenly reminded of the delectable meal in front of me and took another bite, and another, and another until it was done.
And then I noticed that Florina had been watching me eat the whole time.
I felt my cheeks heat up and took a sip of water.
It occurred to me then that Florina was acting contrary to what Lyn had told me. It had felt natural talking to her like this, so I hadn't noticed. But now, during this short reprieve, I could see it. Seeing her meet my gaze and holding it for a while, offer to help me with the horses, even deciding to come and eat with me.
"Hey Florina…" I said.
"Aren't you scared of me?
A look of surprised flickered across Florina's face and then was replaced by indignation.
"No! Of course not!"
"But you're scared of men, right? Lyn told me so… and she looked surprised as well when you didn't appear to be afraid of me. So… why?"
I was genuinely confused. In fact, this reminded me a bit of when I first met Kent and how he deigned to help me, even though he couldn't place why.
"Oh. I just- Well… um…" Florina trailed off and began messing with her hair again, pulling at her lavender locks. "You saved me. And I… um…" Florina blushed. "I feel… safe around you."
Before I could get out a proper response, Florina bolted upright from her seat.
With a rapid-fire statement, she dashed away to Lyn, who had appeared from the hall of doors, and left me alone at the table.
I smiled and finished my water before getting up as well. No use in just sitting around here alone.
I strode over to a window and as the snow continued its relentless descent. The sun was at its highest point in the sky but the thick clouds darkened the land. I sighed as I realized exactly how much of a delay this would be. A whole day or two would be lost. I don't know how urgent the situation is in Caelin… but to be delayed like this was not good.
Lundgren would have the time to perfect his next attempt to end Lyn's life. The only reason that we succeeded earlier against those hired professionals was because of Karel. And because they weren't combat-oriented, if their tactics were anything to go by. Though I do wonder why they didn't just kill everyone while they slept. If it was me, that would be the number one priority task.
I shrugged. No use in wondering about their motives when I didn't have enough information.
Regardless, I needed to ensure everyone was aware of the increased danger this snowstorm provided. Though Lycia was minutes away from here, that didn't mean the danger was lessened. While we didn't have to face anymore bandits, the fact remained that hired mercenaries and assassins could be waiting.
I paused for a moment, the last thought striking a chord within me. Hired mercenaries and assassins… isn't there a group that's feared in Bern for their efficiency and skill? The Dark Hand? No, that's not right. Black Hand? No… but Black is in their name. The Black… Black Fang.
My eyes widened as numerous scenarios played out in my mind, numbers, calculations and probabilities all flaring, along with a flood of information about them.
The Black Fang… A righteous group whose intent was to kill off corrupt nobles. But sadly, they've changed recently, all after their leader, Brenden Reed, remarried. Now, they'll take on any job so long as they're paid. …Although those that involve corrupt nobles remain at the top of their list.
"My God… Every path from here, every scenario that could play out, all of them would involve the Black Fang. It would be easy for Lundgren to frame the knights as traitors, Lyn as a Sacaen wishing to usurp the natural order of Caelin. Lord Hausen would be unable to deny this, Lundgren incapacitating him in some way. As a noble, Lundgren would also be careful to hide his tracks. He would just need to plant the first seeds of doubt in the people, and Lyn would never make it to Caelin."
I paused, the implications of this new information finally hitting me. "If we didn't hurry before those seeds had gone to fruition… then perhaps even all of Lycia would…!"
"Boy, are you alright?"
I flinched as an unknown voice rang out from behind me. I immediately spun around to see the speaker.
It was a man with dirty blonde hair, wearing a thick black overcoat. He carried no blade, but his posture and build were enough for my eyes.
This man was dangerous, but he seemed friendly enough. He had a genial smile, but the slight wrinkles near his eyes showed his worry. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
I shook my head, but gave an appreciative smile. "No, I was just realizing how badly this storm set me and my companions back."
He gave me a sympathetic look and said, "Yes, this snowstorm is a major setback. I had been planning to be in Araphen by now… but I suppose it can wait."
I noticed that he was closely examining my actions but maintained a cool demeanor, as if it was a natural thing to do. For him, who was a Swordmaster despite not being Sacaen, it must be. After a short while, he offered his hand. "Lloyd," he said.
I shook his hand and replied with, "Mark."
He gave me a small smile and said, "Mark huh? Interesting name…"
He nodded and then gave me a clap on my back. "Well, take care then. A boy like you shouldn't try too hard. Leave the hard stuff for the grownups to take care of, alright?"
That comment made me frown. I didn't think I looked that young. But maybe that was just Lloyd's way of addressing people. Before I could comment, he had turned and left.
"Huh. Strange guy."
I shrugged and walked around the inn, deciding to familiarize myself with the surroundings and look for my comrades. I noticed that Sain had reappeared, sitting alone at a table near the kitchen and decided to join him. He saw me approach and gave me a greeting.
"Sir tactician! How delightful for you to grant me your presence!"
I frowned. "Sain, show some tact. It's dangerous to give out information like that."
He shrugged, as if it didn't matter the least.
"Ah, where is Dame Florina? Were you not with her moments ago?"
I mimicked Sain's earlier action. "We were talking and then she left when she saw Lyn."
Sain quirked an eyebrow. "I see… so I take it your rendezvous did not end well? Ah, tis a shame. You two made a cute couple…"
Rendezvous? Couple? What is he… oh. Rendezvous… as in date?
I flushed red. "T-that was not a date! I just decided that it would be a good idea to become better acquainted with one of my charges!"
Sain laughed at my protests. "If you say so, then it must be. Ah, would you like some wine?"
I was struck by the sudden non-sequester, but nodded.
"Sit then. As you said, this is a good time to become acquainted with another."
He pulled out a bottle of wine from beside him, along with a pair of stone goblets. He handed me one, which I took, and took the other.
"Here's to our friendship!"
He poured a plentiful amount of wine in each of our goblets and toasted, a clink sounding out.
He downed the drink in one gulp before pouring another. I decided to sip mine.
"Isn't this a wonderful inn? The mistress Rita is beautiful and the food is marvelous."
"Indeed. You know your inns, that I can say."
We sat and drank for a while, enjoying the fine wine that was provided here.
After a few more rounds of drinks, I decided to ask him a question, one that had been plaguing me for a while now.
He gave me a silly smile and replied, "What is it sir tactician?"
"How do you know me?"
I noticed an immediate change in Sain's demeanor. Gone was the playful spark in his eyes, the fool-hardy knight replaced by an immaculate soldier. But at the same time, curiosity gleamed in his eyes.
"You still don't remember? Strange, I would think that you would by now."
Sain shrugged. "It's not my place to tell. Though… if you don't remember, then I can't really answer your question."
He pondered for a while, as if deciding upon a particular answer. "Well, I suppose you could say we've met in another life?"
He laughed at the end, slipping back into his fool persona.
I gritted my teeth. "That is not what I wanted to hear Sain. Tell me, how do you know me?"
He shook his head and gave me a silly grin. It was annoying. I could see how Kent was always infuriated by his partner now.
"Fine. Then tell me what you and Kent were talking about two days ago at the inn. Tell me what Kent suspected."
Sain gave me an amused smile. God, I did not like that smile right now.
"It wasn't much really. Just a case of mistaken identity. Kent suspected that you might be the Bernese Blight, a very dangerous and wanted individual in Bern."
The Bernese Blight… that was what Karel had called me. "Oh? And why did you persuade him otherwise? I might very well be a sleeper agent like he suspected."
Sain laughed. "No, that couldn't be the case. For one, you're too young. For another, I know you. You just aren't that type of person."
Sain didn't look like he would answer any more, so I changed my line of questioning.
"Fine. Then tell me what you meant with your words after my seizure."
He shrugged. "I meant that you should be careful. Not even the tactician can be safe from dangerous circumstances all the time. And I'm sure you've noticed how dangerous things have gotten."
I nodded. "The Black Fang."
He gave me a grim nod in return. "Yes. Lundgren will likely call upon them. It's highly likely that we are also now branded as traitors."
I sighed. "Of course. Trouble just seems to follow us, doesn't it?"
"You know so well sir tactician." Sain laughed and stood. "Was there anything else you wanted to ask?"
I frowned in thought, and then said, "Tell me why you wanted to be a knight."
"Oh. This will take a while." With those words, Sain sat down and pulled out another bottle. "Would you like some more?"
I shook my head. I didn't want to forget this tomorrow, or incite another headache.
"Where shall I begin this marvelous tale I wonder." Sain poured another glass of wine and sipped it. "Mm. Well, I was the eldest son of two."
"Oh? You have a younger sibling?" I asked.
Sain nodded. "Of course. I sister actually. Her name was Nadine. She's quite adorable. The apple of my mother's eye. Now where was I going with this? Oh, yes. Like most of the other knights in Caelin, I was born to a family of commoners. We were quite happy together for the first decade of my life."
Sain paused and took another drink from his goblet. "But of course, life never plays out like you want it too. Ah, such a cruel mistress she is." Sain smiled and looked at me but his eyes were in a far off place. "My father died that year from the wasting disease. My poor mother was distraught and I was left as the head of the house. Little Nadine was only a few years of age at that time."
"I did not have any skills, my father dying before being able to teach me the family trade. Thus, I did the only thing a boy could do at the time. I found a knight and begged him to teach me. Sir Eagler was most generous in allowing me as his squire and providing for my family. Although my talent with the sword must have played some part."
I nodded, taking in Sain's story thus far. A part stood out to me however. "Wait, talent with the sword? I thought you preferred using the lance?"
Sain paused, his goblets inches away from his mouth. "Ah, well… I do. The lance is more heroic after all." Sain shifted around as he said that, leaving me to assume there was more than what he was saying. I decided to drop the issue for now. If he did not want to talk about it, I wouldn't pressure him.
"Where was I?" Sain continued. "Oh yes, you wanted to know why I became a knight. Well, the brilliant matter of fact was that I was left with no other choice. Thankfully I was a talented genius. For that I will be forever grateful to the Lord and Sir Eagler. And with that I bid you adieu. I do believe my boon companion Kent should be finished about now."
"Finished? With what?"
Sain gave me a sly smile. "Oh, you know. The things men do to unwind after a long day of travelling."
He laughed and placed a key onto the table. "There's your key to your room. Lyn handed it to me earlier. Go ask Rita for your room later, alright? I'll see you around then." With that, he walked away, heading towards the rooms.
I sat there a while longer, swirling the remains of the wine in my goblet as I contemplated Sain's story. It was sad, no doubt about that. He was forced into knighthood with no other choice being open to him. It didn't look like he regretted it though. He seemed to embrace his role as a knight and head of house. That would explain his eccentric behavior. He knew how to control the atmosphere of a situation quite well and, while he usually gave off the air of a fool, was capable of taking charge and being mature.
I looked around and saw the inn's staff lighting some torches and candles. A quick glance outside showed me that the day had passed me by and night was fast approaching. Another glance around showed me that my companions had vanished, not a single one in sight. With a sigh, I picked up my key and looked for this "Rita".
It turned out that she was the same waitress that had served Florina and I our sandwiches. A few points and directions later and I was standing in my own room. Once inside, I'm even more curious as to how we afforded it. I still didn't have a clue. Sain must be a favorite customer or something.
The room itself wasn't too large but it was just enough to give off a cozy atmosphere. It was quite elaborately adorned, with a plush and inviting bed and decorative walls. The carpeted floors were the best, oh were they ever so wonderful. And it was warm in there. So very warm. The elaborate fireplace in the corner of the room provided plenty of heat to this room and the next. I understood then why Lyn and the rest went to bed earlier than usual. It was very tempting to do so here in this room… but I wasn't tired yet.
With a sigh, I turned around and closed the door behind me as I left after ensuring that my belongings were safely tucked away. Unfortunately doing that meant I didn't see the pink haired cleric dashing down the hallway.
We collapsed in an undignified heap and the cleric made sure that I understood just how much that offended her.
"Hey!" she screeched. "What do you think you're doing just standing around there! That hurt!"
I winced at the point blank assault on my ears but recovered enough to respond. "Well, I was just leaving from my room. I should be asking you. What do you think you're doing running down a hallway where doors could open any minute?"
The cleric looked irritated and stood up, brushing her robes as she did so. She looked ready to reprimand me but blinked as she saw my face. Her eyes widened for a brief moment, yet it was gone as quickly as it came. "A-anyway!" she said. "I'll have you take responsibility! For that, you're going to have to join me for dinner!"
It was my turn to be taken aback now, confused at the sudden shift in attitude. "Er… what?"
"Come on, Erk should have saved me a table. He'd better have…"
And so I found myself being dragged along by this presumptuous cleric for dinner. She pulled me along until we reached a table where a quiet purple haired mage, judging from his robes and insignia, was reading.
"Erk! You saved a table for us!"
The mage nodded, although I could see that he was irritated for having his quiet reading time interrupted.
"Here, sit down!" The cleric pushed me into a chair and sat in the chair right next to me. As it was, she was seated on my right with the mage, Erk, sitting across from us.
"Waiter! Waiter!" the pink haired cleric said while waving animatedly towards said person. "We'd like to order!"
Turning back to me, she asked, "Quick, what do you want to eat?"
Still a bit overwhelmed, I said, "Whatever you're having?"
"Goodie! We'll have the pasta then! I love pasta, it's one of my favorite foods! I've heard that the dish they serve here is one of the best they have!"
I nodded hesitantly as a waiter came over to take our orders.
"Good evening sirs, madam. What would you like?"
Erk ordered a plain sandwich while the cleric ordered pasta for both her and me. With that settled, she turned back to me and resumed her animated chatter.
"Well anyway, that boring guy over there is Erk. He's my escort! Isn't he great? He's so clean and tidy, perfect for a noblewoman like myself!"
"I can see that," I agreed.
"Right, right? I can't believe it! He's so prim and proper that he could be a girl himself!"
Erk slammed his book shut at those words and said, "Serra!"
The cleric, Serra I guess she was called, looked back and gave him a look as if to ask "And it's not true?".
With a sigh, Erk opened his book and resumed reading. "I swear, you are NOT the woman I agreed to escort…" he said.
Serra shrugged and turned back to me. "So anyway, who are you? And where are you heading to?"
"Er…" I found myself at a lost at the sudden shift in her attention. "I'm Mark and I'm heading to Caelin with my companions."
"Ooh, Caelin? That's not too far from where we're headed!"
"Oh?" I leaned forward, curious to her destination.
"Yeah!" Serra nodded. "I'm heading to Ostia. I was just on a missionary trip to Bern with Erk, and now we're heading back. I'm well connected with the Ostian Marquess you see."
The waiter returned then with our orders and placed them on the table. Erk quietly took his sandwich and began eating, deigning to ignore our conversation to the best of his capabilities. I followed his lead and began eating as well. With one bite I could tell that, like their other dishes, it seemed that Rita's tavern had a very high standard of excellence when it came to food. It was no wonder why this place was so popular.
After a few bites, Serra resumed the conversation. "So, why are you heading to Caelin?"
I paused, deciding whether or not to tell her. After a brief reflection, I decided to tell most of the story but leave the bigger details out. "One of my companions just recently learned that she had family there. Unfortunately, someone has quite a grudge against her and it's been dangerous. So it's good that we have this time to rest, what with the snowstorm and all."
Although it also offers some other dangers, I thought to myself.
"Oh! In that case, why don't we all go together? Erk is a mage and I'm in the service of St. Elimine myself. We'll be more than useful! And there's safety in numbers right?"
I hesitated but Serra's pout and puppy eyes were too much. With a sigh, I agreed.
"Yay! Isn't that exciting Erk? Danger, company, and a knight to round it all off! Won't that be fun?" Serra looked at Erk, who returned a dark glare in return.
"Serra," he said. "What deviousness are you contemplating now?"
She brought her hands to her mouth in gasped in an overly dramatic fashion. "Deviousness? I'm only doing this in the good of my heart! And you said you were escorting me for experience right? Well, what better way to do it than in a group?"
Erk looked resigned to his fate and nodded.
"Well… welcome aboard I guess?" I said.
Erk sighed and said, "Yes, I suppose so. We are in your care."
I nodded in turn.
We continued eating for a while but when a small yawn escaped from Serra, she bid her leave for the night. Erk followed shortly after, not wanting to stray far from his charge.
For the third time that day, I found myself alone at a table. Rita, the waitress and maiden of this inn, came over to clear our plates. "Oh, you're still here?" she remarked. "I would have thought that you'd be asleep by now. The rest of your companions are already."
I shrugged. "I guess I'm just the odd one out."
"Well, if you want some company I suppose I can keep you company. Now that it's late, there's not much left to do."
I shook my head. "No, it's alright. I might as well get some sleep now. There's no telling when the next time we'll be able to sleep in beds will be."
I made to stand up but paused as a thought struck me. "I am curious however. Why is it that this place is called Rita's tavern when it's an inn? I would have thought that you'd come up with a more… fanciful name, like many other inns do."
Rita gave me a coy smile. "That's because it's a place where friends come and go, not only a place for people to sleep. A place for people to meet and convene. Erik and I came up with it."
Rita nodded and pointed to the raven haired barista, who was cleaning a few remaining mugs with a worn cloth. He waved in greeting. "He's a quiet chap, but quite noble. He's also a right hand with a sword but retired now."
With a friendly squeeze to my shoulder, Rita bade me good night and returned to the kitchen area. My curiosity satisfied, I returned to my room and settled in for a long night's sleep in a cozy bed and warm room. And so I slept, slumbering without a care in the world setting aside the issue of danger and war for the moment. There would be plenty of time for that later.
A/N: Well, apologies for the long wait. I've no excuses really for it taking this long to get this chapter up. Anyway, this was mostly a filler chapter to flesh out some characters and establish connections between Mark and some characters. Also to foreshadow some stuff.
Serra and Erk get! Their chapter seemed to be a filler anyway, so I just made them join out of battle.
As should be apparent now, this story isn't occurring like it does in Canon. The reason behind that is long and quite complicated. Hopefully I can successfully explain it without making it seem farfetched, or at least too much. Anyway, another scene with Eva! This one is quite important as it shows a lot about "Mark's" character and his mindset. It also shows the beginnings of the chain of events that led to him being in Elibe.
Oh, a cookie to whoever gets the reference that Rita's tavern is to and who the Barista was modeled after.
Just to reiterate, this won't be a FlorinaxMark story. While I enjoy their interactions, in this story I see them taking the roles of big brother little sister more than anything. Sain's just a tease as usual, although his back story is revealed a bit as well. He does know more than he's letting on. A lot more actually, but more on that at a later date.
Hey, the Black Fang! Right. We'll be seeing them again soon. They'll be playing a much bigger role than in the game. Personally, I don't see why Lundgren didn't set them on Lyn. It wouldn't be too hard if he played his cards right. Especially considering how easily they were manipulated later on.
Now, on to the writing aspects that I wanted critique about. How were the character interactions? Were they believable, or did they sound forced? Did the writing get boring at any point, too repetitive, etc? Any other glaring issues? I'd like to believe my writing has gotten at least marginally better than last time, but I'm still not certain.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and again, I apologize for the wait. I'm trying to set up a battle of epic proportions later on… but that's way later on. Lots of things need to occur first. Thankfully, the next four or so chapters are pretty detailed outlines already, so they shouldn't take long at all to come out. Please review, they're always helpful even if it's a brief, great chapter. Until the next (which I hope won't be as long).