Elsewhere, far removed from the drama, someone darted through the dark of night, trembling in the cold and heart racing. Every new sound could have been a life-threatening ambush waiting to be sprung, and frankly, this person would probably have died of a fear-induced heart attack before any ambush could be performed properly. At last, he settled down in a wooded area for the night. Sleeping out in the middle of nature was less than ideal, but he could barely stand straight anymore, and his legs were aching too much to take another step. He would just have to risk catching cold, because it was that or catastrophic leg failure mid-sprint.
The sun rose on him, the warmth on his face slowly waking him up and putting a smile on his sleeping face to boot. Unfortunately, what finally did wake him up was nowhere near as pleasant. A shadow moved to obscure the sun's rays and a chuckle caused the boy's smile to vanish and eyes to fly open. "What do we have here, eh?" A strange man asked from horse back. "You lost, you funny-lookin' freak?" The boy shot to a sitting position and backed up, running straight into the tree behind him. Before he could respond, the mounted man continued with, "and what's that you got around your neck? Looks mighty valuable if ya ask me."
The boy's hand shot to his necklace, from which hung a shining purple stone. "I-it's a keepsake from my mother. For my hands only."
The man did not like that answer, a scowl growing on his face. "Oh, so it's gonna be that way, eh? Well how about I chop your hands off with that keepsake in it?" He drew a sword and pointed it at the boy menacingly.
Yelping, the boy closed his eyes tight, trembling and saying his last goodbyes under his breath. However, before the attacker could follow through on his threat, a voice called from behind him, "oi, what do you think you're doing here, scumbag?"
Startled, the man turned his horse around to see an older man in huge armor leveling an axe in his direction. "Oh, damn it..."
"'Ey, I recognize that armor," the newcomer grumbled. "You're one 'a them Riders of Dawn, ain't ya?"
"What of it, old man?" The rider spat.
Axe unwavering, the man said, "this ain't Rider territory, so unless yer aimin' to start a war with the Stonewall Knights, I'd suggest gettin' yer ass out of here as fast as yer little horse can carry you."
Gritting his teeth, the man turned his horse and left, leaving the older gentlemen and the terrified boy. "You...you saved my life!" He cried, taking a stand and shakily bowing to the man.
With a smile, the man set aside his axe and moved closer. "It was nothing. Them damned Riders've been causing all sorts of trouble 'round these parts lately. Next time I see any 'a them in our territory, I won't be so merciful."
The boy nodded quickly. "S-so, this is gonna be a weird question, but can I come with you?"
The man raised an eyebrow. "You want to join the Stonewall Knights?"
Another nod, which came with a nervous tug of an ear. "Yeah! I, er, don't have anybody to stay with, and I'd feel much safer traveling with stronger people. A-and hey, maybe I can learn to be tough from you guys!"
The older man barked a laugh, but nodded, wiping a tear from his eye. "Awright, if you say so. It won't be smooth sailin', but I s'pose I don't see a problem with you tagging along. The name's Gyral, and what I say goes, got it?"
As more time passed, more children from the future joined forces with their younger parents, and the higher the number climbed, the worse Panne felt. It was nearly impossible to go a moment without running into one of the children or a parent talking without end about their own. Once the number in question reached double digits, Panne gave up on socializing altogether. And if that weren't enough to show her that interacting with the Shepherds was a lost cause, the twelfth child belonging to Nowi certainly would have convinced her.
"Wow, twelve whole children!" Lissa laughed as the Shepherds marched onward, nearing their next destination. As it tended to do, the royal family clustered together nearby, listening to her talk. "Who would have thought that we would have been so...busy in a war-torn world?"
As she snickered to herself about her word choice, Owain nodded sagely. "I too find it odd that there weren't more important matters abound, but perhaps it was for the best! If not for that, you wouldn't have all of us to warn you of the dangers ahead!"
Lucina shook her head sadly. "Does that even matter, though? I managed to warn father about Emmeryn's death and only managed to delay it."
A solemn look on his face, Chrom said, "perhaps, but you did show us that the future can be changed."
As those two went on and on about that boring stuff, Lissa leaned in to Owain and asked, "so is this everybody from the future?"
Owain took a deep breath and put a finger on his chin. "Let's see..." He briefly listed off the twelve who had joined so far, straining to think of whoever was missing. "I believe we are down one, yes. My best friends have joined so I'm struggling to think of who it is, though."
Lissa couldn't fight the spark of hope that hearing those words gave her. She wondered if maybe this mysterious final child could belong to a certain someone...
In fact, her mind had made the jump before that thought could even process itself in her mind, and not long after that conversation, she found herself marching alongside Panne. "You'll never believe what I heard," she told her happily. "There's hope for you yet, Panne!"
Unamused, Panne responded with, "I'm not hopeless in any form, thank you."
Lissa laughed nervously. "Maybe I worded that wrong. What I mean is that maybe you do have a kid after all!" She was expecting the exasperated groan from Panne, so she didn't let it slow her down. "You see, I heard from a trustworthy source that we're actually missing one future child. Maybe that one's yours!"
Panne's first instinct was to shush Lissa, but anyone who overheard would likely assume any future child of hers wasn't conceived yet, so she only responded with, "I doubt it."
"I don't," Lissa nodded confidently.
"Has it occurred to you that someone could have made multiple children in the future?" Panne asked.
The question completely disarmed Lissa, and she stopped in her tracks. "Right."
Panne continued, "besides, a future child would mean I would have to make a second one, and as things are right this moment, I do not foresee myself ever opening up to anybody to that extent ever again."
"Right," Lissa said. "But what if in this future time, your child had lived?"
Panne took a deep breath, the idea honestly offending her. "First of all, that is impossible because Lucina has said she was the oldest in her time, and what happened to me took place long before she was born. Second, if that were true, why does the version of me who dies to a godsforsaken dragon deserve a child any more than I do?"
Lissa couldn't think of a proper response, so the two parted without words, Panne suddenly eager for the sun to go down so she could cry alone in her new tent. Unfortunately, before she could get that opportunity, she was approached again, this time by someone worse than Lissa, who at least meant well. He opened his mouth with intent to offer to help Panne set up her tent, but before he could form the first syllable, she snarled expletives at him until he scurried off like a coward. Shaking her head, Panne got back to work, grumbling about the nerve he had to offer menial help to a perfectly capable woman. If there was ever a way to mend the gap between them, that definitely wasn't it.
Time passed and the journeys of the Shepherds continued. Every new encounter brought with it the fear that whoever they had just run into would turn out to be the mysterious thirteenth child from the future and would further cement Panne's solitude in this situation.
Hell, at this point, she was surprised Cherche's pretentious son wasn't sporting Virion's stupid blue hair.
It quickly became abundantly clear to Virion that he wasn't going to help himself out of this situation, and Cherche didn't particularly care to hear about it, so he sought out help from the only person who also knew about the problem. Lissa was exasperated when he approached her by sheepishly entering her tent just before it was time to sleep, but couldn't say no to the way he pleaded with her for advice. "I don't know how I keep getting dragged into this," she finally said, rubbing at her temple. "Look. You know why you left, I know why you left, and you definitely had a reason to, but the bottom line is that you left Panne in her time of need. Thanks for leaving me as her only companion, by the way. Super appreciated it."
Taken aback by her sass, Virion put a hand to his chest. "I...you know why I—"
Lissa stopped him there with, "no! Listen, your problem is that you keep trying to explain yourself, when she's very much not interested in hearing it. What you need to do is make it up to her without the first thing on your talking points being the reason you left. If you do make amends, and then she asks? Go ahead and tell her! But until then, you need to do what you haven't done since the baby. You need to be there for her and show her that you care."
After taking a deep breath, Virion nodded. "Right. I'm sorry for bothering you," he said, bowing a bit and backing away. "Your involvement in this whole affair is truly remarkable, I hope you know."
"It's whatever," Lissa said with a roll of her eyes. "Now let me sleep a little, hm?"
"Of course, milady."
Now he had a plan. Alright, he didn't have a solid plan, but he at least knew what not to do, and that could have meant the difference between forgiveness and being found in a ditch without a face. He shuddered at the thought of his beautiful face being permanently marred by a vengeful rabbit monster, so he was definitely grateful for knowing at least one way to avoid that outcome.
And thus began the long process of trying to find a way to make it up to her. This was far easier said than done, though, because what could he possibly do? Panne wouldn't accept any help from him—not that she needed it—and doing anything with words was completely out of the question. The only solution that left was using his riches to buy her a gift of some sort, but what did she even like? During their previous affair, he never bought anything for her, everything was for the child!
But wait, there was one thing he did for her time and time again. Of course! Even if Panne didn't have any attachment to physical possessions, there was one thing she shared with humans, and that was the need for food! He could win her favor with his marvelously prepared dishes! The issue was getting her to trust him to put food in front of her. Surely she would accuse him of trying to poison her or something. Furthermore, if he just waltzed in to prepare food, everyone would assume he was cooking for the entire force, and that would diminish the meaning of his gesture considerably. Running low on ideas, he approached the one person in the entire force that could help with food related matters such as this.
"You want to make your own supper?" He asked, scratching at the back of his head. "Is...is something wrong with my cooking?"
Virion shook his head quickly. "No no, I assure you, your cooking is among some of the best in the realm." He came up with the next bit as he was saying it. "However, that's the problem. I've not been getting as many chances to practice my own craft, as it were, so I was wondering if...you could teach me! Yes, of course!" For being thought up on the fly, it was a perfect lie.
The other man laughed. "You sure have a weird way of asking for things, Virion, but okay, I'll teach you! I do love to share my enthusiasm for food with others, so I'd be more than happy to help you out!"
Virion bowed with a smile. "I truly owe you a debt, Stahl."
"No worries! Watching you get better will be plenty of payment in itself," Stahl assured him. "I'll, uh, see you in the mess tent tonight?"
"Absolutely," Virion promised.
That night, he and Stahl worked together to prepare food. Stahl was helping cook for the force while also advising Virion on his own dinner. When they were done, Virion was staring down the most delicious potato salad he had ever seen in his life. "It's perfect!" Stahl cooed. "It's...definitely not what everyone else is having, but to each his own, I guess."
After thanking Stahl for his help, Virion hastily slipped out of the tent and made up an impromptu lie to tell Panne when she questioned him sliding the plate in front of her. At least...he had one prepared, but when he placed the food in front of her and she didn't even blink, he shrugged, glad to have dodged that arrow. At least her cold shoulder towards him had that advantage. He stayed back and watched Panne dig in, only to stop after a couple of bites and stare at the food warily, as if it had just asked an invasive question. Her hand trembled before dropping her utensil and quickly covering her mouth. She dashed out of the mess tent without a word, her other hand resting on her stomach.
"Was...was it bad?" He asked himself, grabbing her utensil and poking at the potato. He was too scared to try it for himself, so he threw it out (a horrendous waste of food, if you asked him) and asked Stahl if he was sure it was prepared properly.
"Yeah, it look fantastic," he answered. "Why do you ask?"
Virion shrugged and said, "well, you see, I could not eat all of it because it was just so good, so I allowed Panne to take my leftovers, since she still looked hun—"
"You did what?" Stahl cut him off by uncharacteristically raising his voice and causing Virion to shrink back. "Virion! Taguel can't eat potatoes!"
Wide-eyed, Stahl nodded like it should have been the most obvious thing in the world. "It makes them sick to their stomachs! It might have been the world's most heavenly potato salad, but she got sick because it's potatoes." He put a hand to his forehead and took a deep breath. "Furthermore, you didn't even offer to share your leftovers with me, the one who likes potatoes."
"S-sorry," Virion mumbled before scooting out of his way. Gods, how stupid could one be? In all the time he cooked for her, she never even mentioned to him that she couldn't handle potatoes. Granted, it never came up, but wasn't it just common courtesy to let someone know ahead of time what foods to avoid preparing for you? Regardless, now he had done the exact opposite of what he was planning to do, and what was supposed to be a heavenly dinner turned out to be hours spent throwing up the food from earlier in the day. The bright side was that he didn't come out of the gate bragging about having made the food, so she wasn't going to hate him further for actually poisoning her. There was a chance she associated him with the food since he brought it to her, but that was something he would tackle if it became relevant.
As his stomach rumbled, he realized he had thrown out perfectly good potato salad and surrendered his dinner as well, which didn't help matters at all.
There was only one thing to do, and that was to try again and prepare two batches so he could eat too. Stahl didn't seem to question it, himself eating a good three or four helpings for himself some nights, so he got away with it easily. When he set the plate down, Panne warily said the first non-threatening thing to him since he had revealed himself to her. "There are not any potatoes in this, correct?"
"Not at all, madam," Virion assured her. "Uh, why do you ask?"
Panne shook her head. "It must have been a mistake that Stahl did not catch. My food last night had potatoes in it, and he is well aware that I cannot have those."
Having to act surprised was more difficult than he had anticipated. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry to hear that."
"No you are not."
Caught off guard by the accusation, Virion continued, "er, I can assure you this is made without a trace of potatoes." Luckily, she believed him, and he slipped away with his own food. Again, he watched Panne eat while picking at his own plate, and while her face didn't morph into one of disgust, it also didn't seem to be particularly enjoying the meal either. Was it actually terrible? Did she just not want to show how amazing it was? Or was she just completely incapable of showing emotion now?
Virion winced at the implications of the third possibility.
Once she was finished and stood to leave, he caught up to her and asked how she enjoyed it. "Why do you care?" She spat.
He hadn't planned this far ahead. "Er, because I was...asked by the person who prepared this lovely meal to get someone else's opinion on it."
Panne shrugged. "It was not vile."
"And...that's it?" Virion asked, sensing that trying to continue the conversation wasn't the greatest idea in the world.
"That is all I have to say to you," she said. "If the person who prepared supper wants my feedback, they must approach me instead of sending you in particular to ask me." With that, she walked away. She didn't exactly storm off, but her stride definitely told Virion not to follow after her. He sighed and slumped his shoulders. This was going to take some doing.
Little did either of them know, something was quickly approaching that would turn their entire situation on its head.
It was as normal as the start of a battle could get. The Shepherds decided to put an end to a quarrel between two rival bands, and in their tactician's infinite wisdom, found themselves fighting both sides at once. Panne joined the group venturing through the wooded area, fighting off the horseback knights who called themselves the Riders of Dawn, so she didn't catch a glimpse of the smallest, meekest member of the Stonewall Knights, who watched the battle unfold around him with a terrified look on his face. It didn't take long at all for Chrom to notice that the under-prepared, strangely hairy boy was completely out of place amongst the heavily armored troops around him. "You there," he called. "Hold!"
The boy jumped nearly as high as he was tall, screeching as he did. "D-don't surprise me like that!" He snapped. "I could die of heart failure!"
Chrom raised an eyebrow and lowered his sword. "...I was standing right in front of you. Ought I have waved first, or would that have been too threatening?"
The boy crossed his arms and gave a fake laugh. "Oh, aren't we the jester? People die from much lesser things you know." When he saw the side of Chrom's mouth twitch upward, he yelled, "it's no laughing matter! What if you scare me and I trip and fall and cut my head open? What then, huh?"
Immediately finding all humor in the situation lost, Chrom shook his head. "Right. Look, if you're so worried about death, maybe you should just surrender. I have no desire to spill unnecessary blood."
The boy's ears perked and his eyes lit up. "Wait, surrender is an option? Why didn't you just say so?" Without another word, he bounded into the Shepherds' ranks and was quickly found by one of his comrades from the future.
"...Yarne?" The girl asked, lowering her sword—which was the same one that was being pointed at him earlier, funnily enough.
Yarne smiled wide at the sight of a familiar face. "Lucina! I finally found you guys!"
Lucina nodded. "You sure did. Now are you fighting alongside us?"
"Not today," he said, shaking his head violently. "I've had enough of this fighting stuff to last a lifetime!"
Lucina nodded. "In that case, camp is back that way. Brady stayed behind to heal the sick, so he can keep you company."
"Thanks Lucina, you're a life saver!" With a wave, Yarne bounded off into the camp, making a beeline for the medical tent to make sure he didn't have any hidden injuries or life-threatening illnesses or anything.
After the new recruit determined that he was fine, he had to make sure, so he asked Brady to double check. And triple check. And by the time he was absolutely sure he was fine, he emerged from the medical tent to see Shepherds coming in from the battle in various states of tuckered out. As he watched them shuffle by, he was struck with the realization that someone very important to him was somewhere in this crowd. He got so wrapped up in looking for either of the people he hadn't seen in years, he didn't even notice when one of them pushed past him to get into the med tent. Before he could hear the conversation that took place inside, he ran off, eyes scanning the weary crowd.
Inside the tent, Brady nodded at Panne with a smile. "Get banged up out there?" When her wordless answer came in the form of presenting the gash on her arm, he immediately got to work. "So, did he find ya yet?"
Panne didn't want to interact with this boy more than necessary, but couldn't manage to ask her question without words. "Who is looking for me?"
"Aw, he'd hate for me to ruin the surprise," Brady answered. "Anyway, yer almost ready to go."
Panne rolled her eyes, hating how infuriatingly vague manspawn could be, and looked away from the boy treating her wound, still resenting him for...well, everything, really.
Meanwhile, that very surprise was closing in on the other person he was looking for. Someone who found himself thanking another Shepherd for their help in the day's battle. After the helper acknowledged his gratitude and left without a word, Virion shook his head. "Gods, mistake a man for a woman one time..." When he turned around, he screamed and jumped back, one hand covering his heart and one shooting for the bow at his back. The person staring at him in wide-eyed wonder quickly changed his expression, visibly panicking at how much he had surprised Virion. It took a moment to process the huge ears, the mane of brown hair with a patch of discoloration in the middle, and the similar, yet distinctly different armor, but once he did, he gasped. "You...you're a..."
"A Taguel, yep," the boy said with a nod. "And you're—"
Virion instantly connected the dots, but they weren't the right dots to be connecting. His face fell, and he nodded solemnly. "You must be looking for Panne, then."
The boy tilted his head, ears hanging to the side. "I mean, yeah, but you'll do for now."
Virion shook his head. "No need. I know where she is." He pointed the way the boy came and explained, "she's getting patched up at the medical tent. I'm sure the sight of another Taguel will lift her spirits." He didn't care to hear any response, so he turned and walked away, firmly convinced that there was more to him needing to see Panne. Perhaps he was a long lost romantic interest? "She would be happier with one of her own anyway," he whispered to himself before heaving a sigh.
"That was weird," Yarne said before turning back to look for the woman who was currently leaving the med tent.
She stretched her arm and poked at where her injury was, thankful that the future kid with a staff was at least good for something. "I still hate him, though," she assured herself. "His mother does not deserve such a thing." While she grumbled to herself, she failed to notice the person walking in her direction, and she ended up accidentally shoving him to the ground.
If that wasn't enough to snap her back to reality, the boy's whining surely did the trick. "Aw, geeze, what were you thinking? What would we have done if you had knocked me into someone's errant weapon and I had my heart pierced? Or what if there was an ant hill full of fire ants here? I could have died!"
Panne responded on instinct, not realizing it when she said, "oh, shut up. This behavior is not befitting of our race." It wasn't until she had grabbed his hand and yanked him to his feet that she had realized what she had said. "Did I...how embarrassing, apologies for addressing you as if you were a..." She trailed off when she got a good look at the boy's face, because she had noticed that the face was framed by two very long ears that she hadn't seen outside of a mirror in many, many years. "A Taguel!"
"You're awfully quick to accept this," the boy said timidly. He chuckled, but Panne's face remained frozen in a look of shock. "Um...hello?" Without a word, her hands shot to his ears and poked and prodded, making sure they were real and not some sort of costume. "Ow, ow! Hey, I could go deaf from this! And then I wouldn't be able to hear any approaching threats and that would mean one very dead Taguel!" After determining the ears were real, she cupped his face in her hands, looking on it in disbelief. Carefully, she turned him around looked at his tail, finding that just as genuine as his ears.
After turning him around again, Panne stuttered, looking for words. "You...you are a...how are you alive?"
"Barely," the boy answered.
Her eyes darted at the glittering stone around his neck. She could tell without even touching it that it was just as real as the one currently attached to her hip. "But how? I thought I was the last one."
"Well, you were," the boy answered. "That is, until you had me."
The world around them seemed to stop in its tracks, and Panne could feel a shiver go down her spine. "Excuse me?"
The next word out of the boy's mouth was his attempt at getting her attention, and while she could clearly watch his mouth move to form the word, she didn't hear it through her thundering heartbeat and the nearly earth-shattering realization that he was saying it at her. She was being referred to with a word that she never thought would describe her. Was this real? Was this boy and his concerned face even real? So many thoughts, questions, and possibilities ran through her mind at the same time, and they all tried to leave her mouth at once in a string of stuttering babble. He said something else, and the sentence ended with that word again, and it was too much for Panne to handle. In the haze of consciousness before she fainted, she noticed the one thing off about him.
Was that a patch of discolored fur on his forehead? Even worse, was that patch the same color as...
The realization made Panne so angry that she stopped fainting, catching herself from falling backwards with her foot and snapping directly back into reality. When she straightened and saw the terrified face of the boy again, she said, "who do you belong to?"
"Er...I am a Taguel, you know," the boy said. "So I would think that's kind of obvious?"
"Alright, but who else?" Panne asked, starting to grow impatient.
"Shouldn't...shouldn't you know who my dad is?"
"Say his name," Panne yelled, causing the boy to flinch with a squeal.
Frantic, the boy yelled, "my dad's name is Virion, alright? Happy now?"
"That bastard." Panne whirled around, ear nearly hitting her newly discovered son in the face before she stormed off.
Yarne looked after her with a confused glance. "...Mom?"
Now, if this were any other child, they would have chased after their mother to ask what was wrong, but it didn't take Yarne very long at all to figure out just what—or in this case, who was causing this. He stormed through camp in search of his father, face deadly serious. When he spotted that head of hair, his greeting came in the form of jabbing a finger into his chest and demanding, "what did you do?" A very confused Virion shook his head, insisting he had no idea what was going on, which only made Yarne angrier. "Oh, there's got to be something going on if my own mother wasn't interested in speaking to me."
That caused Virion's train of thought to come to a grinding halt. "...Come again?"
Yarne nodded. "Can't you tell by my tuft of your hair? Well, it's not literally your hair, that'd be gross, and probably unhygienic. Who knows what kind of deadly parasites nest in the hair of a dead person? A-anyway, it's your hair in the sense that I—"
"Alright, I get it," Virion said, holding his hands up. "I just can't believe it! How are you alive?"
"That's a good question." With a chuckle, Yarne scratched at the back of his head. "But that isn't important right now. What's going on here, and why aren't you and mom happily in love?"
Virion was struck speechless. There, standing right in front of him, was living, breathing proof that it was indeed possible for him and Panne to have a healthy child. But was this boy the child that didn't survive in this timeline, or was something else afoot here? He must have zoned out, because Yarne snapped his fingers in front of his face and repeated the question. "Oh, right. Well, this is sort of a long story."
"I have time," Yarne said, crossing his arms.
With a sigh, Virion put his hand around his newfound son's shoulder and lead him to his tent so the story could be told in secret, away from everybody else. He didn't know if even this boy would forgive him for what he had done, but if he did, perhaps this was just the bargaining chip he was looking for to help him get back in Panne's good graces.