Hernobleness: Damian was one of Garon's older children. Nothing's happened to him, yet, but like any other siblings not named Camilla, Leo or Elise he's going to end up dead by the time of the game.
Morning came in the unwelcome form of tugged-off covers and inane chatter in his ear. Garon stared blankly at the ceiling, naked as the day he was born, as to his left his recent bed partner babbled a mile a minute. She had blonde hair and purple eyes, was one of the new palace healers, and that was all Garon knew about her; he couldn't remember her name or where she came from. He didn't care to. But she'd been a troubadour assigned to look after him in his depression; she'd been young and pretty and had offered comfort, and he was so miserable he'd taken her up on it.
He'd wanted to forget, and for a little while he'd been able to. But now he just felt even worse than before. The ghost of Arete stared accusingly at him over the woman's shoulder, asking how he dared enjoy himself when she was barely a month dead. He knew because he'd counted all the seconds of every day that had passed since, playing those final horrifying moments in his head over and over.
Why didn't you believe in me, Garon? Arete's ghost asked above him, face pulled into a disapproving frown.
Why didn't you save me, Father? Josie's and Penelope's and all his dead children's ghosts asked, peering up over the bedcovers.
Why are you such a failure?
"I'm sorry," he mumbled, blinking back tears.
"Hmmm? Did you say something, Your Majesty?" The annoyingly high-pitched voice grated his ears, and he ground his teeth. The pretty face of his bedmate appeared in the air above him, peering down with exaggerated concern. "Are you not feeling well? Because if you want I can—"
"Get out," he growled, cutting her off mid-sentence.
The idiot blinked at him owlishly, smile frozen quizzically in place. "Pardon?"
"GET OUT!" Garon roared, jerking up so suddenly she had to step back to avoid their foreheads smacking together. With a yelp the woman scrambled backwards out of the bed, barely collecting her clothes and her dignity before rushing out of the bedroom.
As the door slammed, the king dropped back onto his bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. He could have laid there for minutes or hours, for all he knew; he didn't care. He just…couldn't go on anymore. The woman he loved was dead, again, this time by his fault. The threat she'd warned him of seemed insurmountable, her note dismissed as the ramblings of a madwoman and forever tarnishing her legacy. Leaving his room just caused the concubines to flock to him, eager vultures ready to pick at his corpse.
He was aware that by lying here, he was neglecting his duties. But he just couldn't quite care. His advisors were running Nohr for the duration of his 'illness', so it wasn't as if the country would fall apart. Probably for the best, they were probably better suited to it than him. What had he ever done right?
Even the one thing he'd tried to do before his self-imposed exile, getting Iago arrested, had failed. His guards reported that his retainer had somehow managed to escape, and he had soldiers combing the country for him. But they weren't turning up anything, and Garon knew he wouldn't be able to keep sending them out for long—he'd been unable to provide a good explanation for why such a "refined and talented young man" should be imprisoned. It made people antsy when you did things like that for no apparent reason. Already the maids whispered that he'd gone mad. And the more fruitless the searches, the less likely people would be willing to go on them, until eventually, their attentions would be directed elsewhere. And then, Iago would get away.
It was hopeless. He didn't know what to do, and he was so tired of pain. Tired of being offered snippets of happiness, then having them snatched away—by his own mistakes, no less!
It was just easier to…give up.
More days blended by before a change happened. He'd spent all morning contemplating whether it was worth the effort to get out of bed and close the windows—the last butler to come in had left them open, hoping some fresh air would do him good, but the cold was horrible. He'd finally decided he was uncomfortable enough to, yes, exert some energy, and so he'd risen and grudgingly made his way over. As he reached to grab and close them, the sounds of a commotion reached his ears. He looked down, into the courtyard many stories below.
A large group of children were huddled around something on the ground, jeering and taunting. They were too far for him to hear the exact words, but the vague sounds of their tone were clearly unkind. Garon sighed—things never change-and was about to turn away when one of them shifted aside long enough for a flash of blue to catch his eye.
She was huddled on the ground, hands over her ears as words rained down on her. It seemed she was being bullied again; probably worse than before, with her mother dead. He stared down, feeling an emotion other than self-loathing break through the fog of his mind.
I should do something.
What can you possibly do? Self-Loathing immediately asked, gleeful at the chance to be toxic again. You'll make things worse again. You always do. And anyway, you're too far away. Your voice won't reach them. And it's not really worth all the effort to leave your room and face the world just to save a girl who isn't even yours, now is it?
He clenched his jaw, furiously willing the voice to shut up and his legs to move. A servant chose that moment to step inside, and Garon wheeled on her. "Get the guards!" he snapped, stabbing a finger at the scene down below. "Tell them to go outside and stop that!"
She scrambled to obey, and as an afterthought the king shouted after her, "And have them bring Azura here!"
Then he scrambled to make himself presentable—he'd been wearing the same set of night clothes for the past…how many days now? And when was the last time he'd shaved or combed his hair? Gods, that was disgusting. He wrinkled his nose as he changed into a clean outfit, tossing the dirty clothes aside.
Thirty minutes later, a pair of soldiers stepped inside, Azura between them, and informed him they'd chased her bullies off. Garon stopped the pacing he'd been engaged in for the last twenty minutes—they should have been here long ago—and studied the girl. His heart twisted at how miserable she looked. Her head was down, her shoulder-length hair tangled and her dress muddy. Arete's pendant was still around her neck, dangling to her stomach, and she was carefully wiping the dirt and grime off it. There was blood matted on a cut on her leg, which she shuffled behind her other when she saw him looking.
He grabbed one of the guard's elbows and asked, in a low voice, "Where did that blood come from?"
The guard glanced at Azura and leaned in. "A few of the kids had started pelting her with rocks when we arrived. Most were small, but one was large and jagged. It tore her leg open pretty badly—she couldn't stand on it. We had to fetch a healer to patch it up. That was the cause of the delay, my apologies."
"It's fine. You're dismissed." The pair snapped off matching salutes and departed, and Garon turned his gaze back to his step-daughter. He crouched down to her level, trying to meet her eyes; she averted them.
Finally, he gently inquired, "Azura…what happened?"
"Nothing," she instantly answered, "I tripped and fell down the stairs. That's it."
"And that gave you a cut on your leg that looks like it's from a sharp rock? The guards told me what happened, Azura. There's no point in lying."
She shuffled her feet and ducked her head, looking very much like a dog expecting to be scolded.
"You don't care," she finally mumbled, after a moment of silence. "You've left, just like Mom has."
It was a childish statement, but it cut him to the quick. You've left. You aren't here for me, or for your other kids. You aren't doing your duty as a father. You don't care.
His first, immediate emotion was a brief flare of anger. How dare she tell him he didn't care? He loved her and the rest of them so much, it was literally making him ill! But then he looked at her, standing small and so young, and it drained away.
Because while he did care, she was right that he hadn't been there for her recently. Or for his other children. Needing time to mourn was one thing, but it was no excuse to neglect his duties as a parent. Shame fell upon him, and Garon took a deep breath, trying to figure out how to explain his actions to a girl this young,
"Azura, did your mother tell you about… that place?"
Azura hesitated and glanced at the door. But then she nodded, slowly, and he continued, "Then you understand that not being able to tell others about it is…difficult. Between that and losing her…"
He looked down. "I admit it, I did leave. I left as a father and as a king. I forgot that I wasn't the only one who lost someone that day, too, and I gave up. And in doing so I abandoned you, my other children, and my country.
"But I'll try not to do that anymore. I still have the letter she wrote. It killed her to do so…" The word killed was bitter poison on his tongue. "…but it's still here."
She blinked up at him with Arete's large golden eyes, her lower lip trembling. "I want her back."
"I do too," he murmured, bending down and holding the girl close as she started to cry. "But she won't come back. We can still honor her memory and her wishes, though. I'll find a way to use her letter to tell others the truth; then her sacrifice won't have been in vain. That, I think, would make her truly happy.
"I promise, Azura. I won't give up anymore. I'll make things better. I'll start fixing my mistakes, and we can live as a happy family in a safe world."
It wasn't easy to keep that promise, of course; to keep fighting back when life kept kicking him down. But he tried. Starting the next day he left his room and returned to his duties, to comments about how unhealthy he looked. He firmly told off the children who had bullied Azura and, as they were nobles' children, sent them and their parents away from court—the humiliation and shame was punishment enough. He managed to pen a letter to Sumeragi, offering Azura in engagement to Prince Kamui and requesting a meeting to discuss this at Cheve.
Garon had something vaguely resembling a plan: he still possessed Arete's letter, resting carefully in his pocket. They would designate a meeting place, make the engagement, and then he would show him what his late wife wrote. It didn't matter if the king didn't believe it, because Garon would recapture Iago, and he knew Hoshido had a throne of truth. He'd bring Iago to the meeting and ask Sumeragi to escort him to Shirasagi, then sit him on the throne. Then Iago would be exposed as an agent of Anankos, and his wife could be avenged.
All they had to do was find Iago.
And so, a week later, he saddled up with his men and prepared to set off in search of Iago, hoping that his presence would lure him out. His children all gathered outside in the courtyard to see him off, something they always did when he went off to battle. It was the one time they all got along, united in their concern for their father.
"Be careful, Father," Xander mumbled as he stepped back, hug finished.
He smiled with a bit more effort than it usually took. But it was better than not smiling at all, as he had been in the past month. "I will."
Xander nodded awkwardly, and returned to his brothers and sisters. Standing apart from them, Azura's pale face was so hopeful it physically hurt to see, and he privately vowed to never disappoint her or any of his children again after this. He smiled and lifted a hand in farewell, and they all waved back.
And then, before the concubines hovering about could move towards him in a bid of affection, Garon mounted his horse, kicked his heels into it, and set off at a trot, his retinue trailing behind.
They rode for five days until they reached the last place his spies had reported seeing the man: it was an open place, a rocky field with one of Nohr's few rivers cutting through it. They came to a halt at the water's edge and surveyed the area.
"I don't like this," Raoul murmured. He'd finally broken out of his depression, requesting to come along once he learned that his lord was going into danger. With two belts of knives strapped to his waist and his gauntlets polished to a shine, his head swiveling like a bird's, you'd never have thought he was anything less than a battle-hardened veteran.
Nothing about this had the traditional set up for an ambush—there were no trees, no shadows, nowhere for men to lurk. But Garon understood what his retainer meant, all the same. There was just that itching, uncomfortable feeling, the sort you got when you walked through a shady part of town. He didn't want to stay here long.
"Fan out in groups of four and find him," Garon ordered, and his men moved to comply.
Then, magic fell upon them, fire and lightning raining from the skies. Garon's horse screamed, reared and threw him off. He grunted as he hit the ground, feeling his ribs ache and knowing there'd be a bruise come morning. Standing up, his eyes ran over what had quickly dissolved into a chaotic mess. The magic was still burning in the sky, and around him his soldiers were struggling against...what? He couldn't see, exactly, but whatever was there was very real—even as he watched one fell over, dead, a bloody wound gaping in her chest. Where did they come from?
Instinct yelled a warning, and he spun, grabbing and swinging Bolverk in the same motion. His arms shook as the axe sliced into something, and for the briefest moment it became visible. It looked like a man, but distorted, like he were viewing it through a foggy mirror. Bolverk was embedded in its neck, and his would-be attacked shuddered and dissolved into water. His eyes widened at the familiarity of such a thing.
Into water…could it be…?
"And so you finally crawl out of your bed at last. Too late, though: while you've been sulking, my master and I have not."
Garon turned, growling as he recognized the voice. Iago emerged from the shadows, his tome glowing ominously. His eyes were hard. "We know she told you, and that's a pity. It would have been so much easier if you'd complied willingly. But Anankos can make do with a corpse."
He raised a hand, and for one brief second their attackers became wholly visible—walking corpses. Then the bodies of his fallen soldiers rose up before Garon's horrified eyes, their sockets glowing purple. In a dull, monotone voice, they chanted, "King Anankos… King Anankos…"
"You monster!" Garon snarled, outraged as he fell into a battle stance. Mentally he surveyed his odds and found them not very good, but he didn't care—this was sacrilege. "How dare you defile the dead in such a manner?"
"Is it not a king right to use his subjects as he sees fit? All of humanity belongs to Anankos…they just don't know it yet." Iago stepped backwards, the air around him glowing brightly as he teleported away.
"Coward!" Garon roared, and then he had no more time to speak as the abominations charged. He spun Bolverk in his hands before bringing it down in a two-handed blow onto the first body. It crumpled easily, and he pulled it out, turning on a foot to cleave the next charging puppet in two. A cavalier charged, lance poised to strike, and he grabbed it, using its momentum to pull it off its horse. It hit the ground hard, and before it could get up he slammed Bolverk into its skull.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see what remained of his men slowly being pressed back by the superior forces. To his left Raoul's face was grim as he flung his knives with deadly precision. "Lord Garon, you need to retreat!" he yelled, ducking beneath a fighter's clumsy blow and slipping a blade between its ribs. "Their numbers are—"
And then Raoul stopped talking as a massive head reached down from above and bit him very gorily in two. A rank smell, of fire and rotting corpses, filled Garon's nostrils as a wyvern screamed. Curling his lip, Garon spun in its direction, raising Bolverk—
Large, amethyst-colored scales. A rider with porcelain skin and golden hair. Doe-brown eyes with purple at the edges, staring blankly into his own.
Garon froze, his axe jerking to a halt inches away from the rotting wyvern's face. "Katerina?" he breathed.
Icarus shrieked in his face, head rearing back to bite, and the king barely had time to throw himself aside. His wife—no, no, it couldn't be her—grabbed a heavy tomahawk out of a holster. Her eyes were completely empty as she sent it spinning through the air towards him; Garon barely had time to raise Bolverk to block it. The grating screech of steel on steel sent his ears ringing.
"Katerina!" he yelled as the tomahawk fell at his feet, "It's me, Garon! Don't you recognize me?"
She spoke then, her voice toneless. "I don't know any Garon."
And then there was no more time to talk, as she grabbed a silver axe and swung it down at him. Fighting fliers was a pain; they had a mobility advantage, you had to handle both the rider and the animal's combined attacks, and they were prone to leaping into the air and out of danger. And even dead Icarus was still intelligent. He and Katerina had been fighting together since she was old enough to ride him, and their timing was perfect, his lunges interspersed with her axe swings. It was all Garon could do to hold them off, sweat trickling down his forehead as his arms ached in effort to parry blow after blow.
Relief came in the form of Katerina mis-timing her swing, her axe a fraction too fast for Icarus to cover, and Garon seized the opportunity. He dodged the wyvern's next clumsy strike, slipping under his reach, and crashed Bolverk's flat side into Katerina's femur. She let out a soft grunt of pain, her armor cushioning the blow somewhat, but not enough to hide the sharp crack of bone. He jammed the butt of the axe into her side, and it was enough to make her lose her balance and fall off.
Icarus reared back, mouth open as he prepared to defend her, and Garon sliced open his belly. Blood spilled onto him, and the wyvern screamed in pain. Instinct overcame training for the moment, and he huddled down, abandoning the battle to curl around his torn-open stomach.
Garon stepped past him to where Katerina had fallen. He looked down at his supposed to be dead wife, defenseless for the moment as she struggled to stand on a broken leg, hands futilely reaching for the axe just out of her grasp. And as he brought Bolverk up, poised to come down on her, he made his final mistake of the night.
In this pose, arms in the air and away from his body, he was a completely open target. Pain shot through him so suddenly he almost didn't recognize it. Then he thought he'd imagined it, blinking in surprise. But then his eyes dropped down to the icicle in his chest; cold emanated from it, and the tip was beaded with blood. It had come from behind, and he turned, looked over his shoulder. And when he did, Garon saw his second despair of the night.
Blue hair. Gold eyes. Black robes. A slim hand, holding a blue tome, while her second was outstretched in his direction, a few snowflakes still dancing around the fingertips.
Blood was filling his mouth, but he managed to cough enough aside to attempt to speak. "Dusk, no…"
Arete's eyes were the last thing he saw as his vision went black and the ground rushed up to meet him. Her dispassionate, uncaring, dead eyes. Gold rimmed with purple.
History, when it bothered to remember King Garon, would only remember him as the lost king who fell prey to an outside force he could not hope to combat, a stepping stone paving the way for greater things.
As the body of King Garon fell and landed in the river with a splash, blood seeping into the water, Iago laughed. It wasn't a happy laugh; it was a laugh of relief, an exultation. The laugh of a man who has just been told he's been delivered from the chopping block. He laughed with such force it shook the entirety of his thin body.
When he finally stopped, he took a moment to compose himself, even though he was the only living being nearby. Iago snapped his fingers at Arete. "Patch her and her wyvern up, then go hunt down any survivors."
She inclined her head, withdrawing a staff and making her way to the other queen. As the soft blue glow of healing light emanated from the women, Iago crouched by Garon's body. He pressed two fingers into his neck, confirming the lack of a pulse. It's really done, then. I really did it.
The glow stopped, and a moment later he heard the sounds of the undead queens riding off on their mounts. There were no bodies littered on the battlefield; the corpses of the fallen had immediately been seized and made new members of Anankos's army. The battle over, they now stood motionless as they awaited orders. Iago waved a hand, directing them to return to Valla. The dragon would be pleased by tonight's events, he hoped. If he wasn't…
Repressing a shudder, Iago began searching Garon's corpse. It didn't take long before his hands patted down a crumpled sheet of paper. The dark mage pulled it out and unfolded it, eyes running over the words.
Behind him came the voice he'd learned to dread. "And so you deliver Nohr into my hands." There was no thank you, no good job. In Anankos's eyes, success was expected.
Iago rose and turned in its direction, doing his very best not to flinch at the sight of the corpse. From the Nohrian insignia on its armor and the still-fresh blood oozing out of a head wound, it must have been one of Garon's fallen soldiers. It looked like it had been a swordswoman in life, but now it was just another of Anankos's tools. When the mouth opened, Anankos's deep voice emerged instead of a woman's high one. "Now, report."
He kneeled, keeping his eyes on the soil. "Yes, Your Majesty."
It was Anankos who came up with this plan, not him; the plan to subvert Garon and bring him under Anankos's sway with a carefully-placed advisor. With the great amount of tragedy in his life, he would have been a prime target for corruption and possession, except that blasted woman had reached him first. She'd plugged his ears against Anankos, and so they had to go this route.
Iago wasn't certain why Anankos had chosen him, out of all the agents, to infiltrate Garon's ranks; perhaps because he was one of the few who actually did have some martial skill. Many of Valla's soldiers and magicians had died in the coup, and the majority of those who'd bowed to Anankos were only common folk, fishers and bakers who saw no other option; Iago was one of the few who weren't. He'd been only a teenager at the time, but he'd been studying magic at the palace, and he'd had enough common sense to just swear fealty instead of resist.
So yes, he was a coward. Was that really so wrong, though? He didn't want to die! He didn't want to die and be raised as one of those things, those awful undead abominations that had souls but no memories, no wills of their own. If he were going to be in endless servitude anyway, he'd at least like to remain himself in doing so. So yes, he betrayed Valla by bending his knee to their new ruler. Was that really so wrong?
He justified his actions to himself every single day in this manner. Why fight something you couldn't even beat? It was just survival. Anyone would do the same. He wasn't at fault.
Gradually, it was becoming easier to believe.
"As we know, Queen Arete warned King Garon about you, triggering the curse and dying in the process. He spent the next month in a deep depression, giving me time to set up his…removal." Presenting the letter he'd found, the raven-haired man continued, "A few days ago, the king came out of his depression with renewed vigor, and I believe he was planning to ally with Hoshido again you. Here, you see, he was writing a letter to King Sumeragi, arranging for a meeting in Cheve to discuss peace. I'll get about to burning it right awa—"
"No," the puppet said abruptly. "No. Give me the letter."
Iago blinked, but did so, trying not to shiver as the corpse's cold, rotting fingers brushed against his own. The puppet leaned in and peered at the letter, glowing eyes narrow at first, then growing wide and fascinated. Its mouth curled into a manic sneer. "A betrothal between my son and that woman's brat," it said softly. "How delightful."
Anankos laughed, handing the letter back. "I want this sent off. Find a suitable location, one where you have the advantage. Bid the Hoshidans come to this meeting, and when they do, ambush them. Kill the king and any else who try stop you, and take back my son."
Iago almost, almost asked why he wanted his son alive, not dead—after all, wasn't Anankos's prophecy about how the boy would someday rise up and slay him? If so, wasn't just killing him now the best way to secure his future? But the words died before they'd even finished forming in his mouth. The god was insane, that was all there was to it. Questioning him could result in anything from an explanation to an execution, and Iago had not worked so hard to keep his neck to lose it now.
So he smiled and kept his forehead touching the dirt, the picture of complacency. "As you bid, Your Majesty."
"Destroy the letter Arete wrote. After that, you will stay by this one's side," Anankos commanded, gesturing to the now-stirring corpse of King Garon. "And assist him in building Nohr into a new, even more militant machine. I've left his soul and memories in there, twisted into obedience to me, so I don't have to possess him all the time; I have to focus on hunting down that fake."
The imposter Anankos, right. The one who'd been hopping from world to world to stay ahead of this Anankos. Iago was just glad he wasn't among those sent after him; none of them had returned so far.
With that final order given, the puppet turned and stepped back into the water, travelling through it back to Valla. And so Iago was left alone by the riverside, in the dead of night with the king's waking body.
Garon's eyes snapped open, the irises flaring bright purple for a brief instant; then the flames flickered out, retreating to just the edges, so that there was just a thin ring of the color around his regular red eyes. His skin was tinged gray, likely a side effect of the drowning.
"Are you alright, my king?" Iago asked with exaggerated affect, bending down to pull him out of the water. Water dripped off his hair, and a poetic part of him noted this was rather like a baptism, in a way. "Speaking to King Anankos can be quite taxing."
Leaving his puppets their souls didn't stop Anankos from taking them over; it just made them autonomous, able to think and speak with intelligence versus the mindless mass that could only obey orders. This was the first time Anankos had left one of them their memories, even—if he had to guess—twisted to paint himself in a favorable light. Presumably it was so Garon could run the country effectively.
Special case aside, Iago was all in all prepared for the raspy voice that answered him. "I am fine. I was merely dreaming of the greatness King Anankos promised."
"Ah, I see. And did you like it?"
Bloodless lips pulled into a truly unnerving smile. "I liked it very much. You, Iago… when we return to Windmire, I'll clear up your banishment and restore your position at my side. You were merely trying to show me the glory of Anankos, and I was a fool for rejecting it. But now I know better."
"Most gracious of you," Iago pretended to fawn, and the thing waved a flippant hand. "It's not gracious at all. Only doing what's right. We both serve the same master, after all."
And as Iago left to see if he could recover any living horses to bring them back to Windmire, the corpse puppet of King Garon Aurelius smiled manically. "Hoshido…you will fall.
"King Anankos wills it."
A/N: And so Garon's story comes to a close. Sadly, there really was no way for it to end happily, since as we all know in canon, he's nothing but a slime monster under Anankos's control. This is probably why it took me a while to get this and last chapter out—writing depressing stuff makes me depressed, and thus les motivated. The game is unfortunately vague on what actually happened to Garon, whether he was possessed like Takumi/Gunter or killed and his corpse animated; I lean towards the latter, since he lacks the purple glow Takumi and Gunter had.
If you're wondering at some unfinished business—some of the concubines and kids still being alive, namely—that's because, according to the Nohrian royals, the infighting didn't stop until after Elise was born. That's months from now, so some of them had to survive (including Bernice and Vesta, mostly so they could keep "protecting" Camilla and Leo). The lady we see in the beginning is indeed Elise's mom, by the way. Azura's attempt to run away also doesn't occur 'til later, after Gooron returns, though I really wanted to include it here. Instead you just get the event of her B-support with Saizo.
Thank you to all who read, fav'd, followed, reviewed, or even just looked at this story! I hope you enjoyed the ride, and I will hopefully see you later! 3