Needless to say, the presence of another Taguel in the ranks of the Shepherds sent some whispers through the rest of the army. Many wondered if he was related to Panne in some way, or if he was just an unrelated survivor from somewhere else. Others got the idea that perhaps he was her child from the future, but anyone who knew how fiercely against the idea she was dismissed that possibility entirely. Nobody thought to ask one of the future children (or gods forbid, Yarne himself) about it, so the speculation was largely lost on them.
When the rumors reached Lissa, she immediately knew the answer and approached Panne about it, bragging in a singsong voice. "So who was right after all, hm?"
Even though she knew what this was about, Panne asked with a roll of her eyes, "what were you right about, Lissa?"
"The new boy! He's totally yours, right?"
Panne hung her head low with a sigh. "I...suppose he is. There is no other explanation for that...disgusting patch of hair."
"I said yours, not Virion's, silly," Lissa laughed. "Anyway, have you spoken to him? Perhaps he could explain things a bit."
Panne shook her head stubbornly. "Absolutely not. I've no interest in hearing what my future self did, especially if it involves that man."
Lissa bit her lip. "Alright, but what if it wasn't the future you? He could be the same one that..." Her point was quickly squashed by the reminder that this line of reasoning had already been discussed, taking the wind from her sails a bit. "Well, either way, I think him being here could go a long way in making all this a thing of the past."
"No amount of children from the future could ever convince me to forgive him," Panne insisted.
"You don't really have to," Lissa admitted. "I'm just saying he could shed some light on the situation."
Panne sighed. "I suppose."
"Besides," Lissa continued. "I think it would do your mental state well to have another Taguel around."
Panne thought that unlikely, but she accepted the suggestion without protest, mostly so the conversation would end.
Meanwhile, Virion wished he could be lucky enough to end the conversation he was having. "How could you do that?" Yarne demanded.
"I told you, I had my reasons," Virion snapped. "But that's not what's important here. What matters now is finding a way to convince your mother to at least forgive me."
Yarne crossed his arms tight over his chest. "I suppose there's something to be said about you wanting forgiveness, at least. But still, why do you care so much about being forgiven if my mom was apparently so insistent that you would never be a couple? It seems...unlike the stories about you I heard."
"Well, that's simple," Virion started. "I made a mistake, and I must correct the wrongs I committed."
Yarne remained unconvinced. "If this all works out, you'll go home a hero, and you can leave everything and everyone else behind like nothing ever happened, so you could easily let this all be a thing of the past. So why do you care?"
Virion took a moment to think of a response. "Look..."
However, dwelling on the subject was only making Yarne more indignant. "Hell, perhaps it would have been better if you had stayed gone!"
"You hurt mother in more ways than I can count, and then you go and hurt her again by coming back when your country needed help. I'm starting to think you only care about making it up to her because you're scared she would ruin your reputation otherwise."
Finally, Virion snapped, yelling, "enough!" His son flinched when he stomped his foot, allowing him to go on his tirade. "Everyone I spoke to went on and on about how much it hurt Panne, and I understand that, but hasn't anyone ever considered how this situation affects me?"
Yarne's instinct was to get mad again, but he decided to indulge his father. "Excuse me?"
"I know it's selfish, but you must consider what losing a child did to the both of us," Virion explained. "I bonded with a child before it was even born, and it didn't get to live the life it deserved, the life I was so intent to give it, and don't you think that hurt me too? I knew full well that I had hurt Panne, and I couldn't face her after all I'd done to her."
"So you left," Yarne finished.
Virion sighed, his shoulders drooping. "Yes. I left. Something happened in Roseanne that required my urgent attention. I thought it would be a week-long trip, a month a most. Just enough time to let our emotions stabilize. And I was wrong."
Yarne was speechless. "Dad…"
"And now I'm back, but it's far too late. She will never forgive me for what I've done." Virion took a deep breath to try to calm himself.
A silent moment passed between the father and son, after which the son was the first to speak. "I can help you, I guess."
"You don't have to," Virion said with a sigh. "I understand if you're simply too angry to associate with your father again. After all, he is a selfish dastard."
Yarne shook his head. "I know mother would never listen to you as things are now, but perhaps she would lend an oversized ear to me. I can help."
"I appreciate that," Virion said. With that, the two parted ways, Yarne determined to find his mother, and Virion looking forward to being able to work through his emotions alone.
It took a few days for Panne to accept Yarne's presence, but when she did, it happened all at once, as if a switch had been flipped in her mind. Hours after awkwardly giving him the cold shoulder and running off for what felt like the hundreth time, she approached him all at once; which, in this case, means in her beast form and at full speed. After he barely avoided being tackled to the ground, she took a swipe at him, which nearly took the patch of blue hair from his head. He yelped and screamed for her to stop, but she was persistent. Finally, a fed up Yarne held his beaststone high and transformed in a flash of the brilliant purple light. "Enough!" He snapped, taking a swipe and meeting his mother's attack with equal force. "What's your problem?"
Panne leaned back onto her hind legs, a smile (somehow) discernible on her transformed face. "About time. All this time and I had not seen you take to your beast form once. I was starting to fear you could not even transform."
"How rude," Yarne whined, mimicking her movement. "What kind of Taguel would I be if I couldn't even transform?"
"Exactly," Panne responded flatly. "Now follow me." Without another word, she turned and made her way to the edge of the Shepherds' camp for the day, leaving Yarne to follow her and ask a thousand questions that wouldn't be answered. When they were a satisfactory distance from the camp, she whirled around to see that he still hadn't reverted either, which was what she planned for. She charged at him, putting enough force in her attacks to sting if any of them connected. Completely oblivious to what was going on, Yarne yelped again, dodging her attacks and frantically crying for her to stop. Finally, Panne got frustrated and bellowed, "fight back already!"
"What...?" Yarne asked, somehow managing a pitifully small voice even in beast form.
Pausing long enough to sit on her haunches again, Panne said, "is it not obvious that I am not trying to hurt you? This is merely a practice battle."
Yarne stopped in his tracks and managed an awkward laugh. "Heh...I knew that..."
Panne shook her head. "How am I supposed to believe you belong to me if you are not even well-versed in battle?"
"And did I teach you nothing of Taguel traditions?"
"Are practice battles something Taguel do?" Yarne asked.
Panne paused. "I...don't know."
"Then how am I supposed to know?"
Caught off guard by his reasoning, Panne shook her head. "Regardless, I should have at least taught you to fight if the future is half as bad as the rest of your kind claim it was."
"Don't say my kind as if those of us to came back to save you are some sort of unwelcome vermin," Yarne snapped. "And no, you didn't teach me to fight, because you died while I was still young."
Panne was at first speechless by Yarne's sudden attitude, but then her curiosity was piqued when he delivered his answer to all those rapid-fire questions. "I did?"
Yarne nodded, his ears drooping as he did. "I don't remember what it's like to have a mother at all. Much less a Taguel one."
"I see... That would explain a lot." Panne heaved a sigh and reverted to her human form. A relieved Yarne followed her lead and followed his mother to the side of a nearby tree, where she took a seat. She took an extended silence to word her question, but finally, she asked, "are you my...first child?"
Yarne raised an eyebrow. "Um...I'm pretty sure. I don't have any siblings, old or young."
"No, that's not...hm." Again, Panne stopped dead in her tracks, unsure of how to put her feelings into words. She didn't know that Virion had already filled their son in on the situation and thus she could ask her question bluntly, so a proper way to word it eluded her.
Of course, it didn't help that Yarne was oblivious to the question she was trying to ask, so he couldn't streamline the process.
Finally, an idea came to Panne. "I got it. Are you older than Lucina?"
Yarne shook his head. "She's the oldest of all of us."
"That is more confusing," Panne said with a sigh. This meant that either the future timeline version of her tried to have another child, or that the first attempt came much later than it did originally, and if Yarne couldn't remember his mother, there was no way to know which answer was right. It had to be the second option, right? There was no way any version of her would forgive what Virion did. But maybe he didn't do it in the other timeline? Robin probably would have known the answer... Frustrated, Panne leaned her head against the tree and heaved another sigh.
"Mom...?" There was that word again, and it was just as strange to her ears as it was the first time it was said. "Is everything okay?"
Not much of anything was okay, but Panne couldn't say that out loud, could she? Yeah, they were far from camp, but letting herself get emotional in front of her son was completely out of the question. "You may leave," she said, trying to hide the shakiness in her voice. He tried to offer some words, but his attempt was met with a second, more stern request to leave her alone. Intimidated, he scurried back to camp, leaving Panne alone. Again. Familiar feelings were rising within her, and it took her back to around two years ago, which was not somewhere she ever wanted to be again.
The knowledge that she wasn't prepared to raise a child was back in full force. Sure, that child was fully grown and wouldn't need raising in the traditional sense, but there was still so much he needed to learn, and that was all squarely on her shoulders. She wasn't going to get any help; hell, she was sure Virion wasn't even aware of what was going on! The situation was shaping up to be a much faster version of what she would have gone through had she not enlisted Virion's help all that time ago, which made it worse because the skipped developmental years would have been the easy part! Now she had to deal with a child who already knew everything she could teach, and would be facing new problems. Gods, what was puberty like for a half-human, half-Taguel son of a shameless philanderer? Was he still going through it or was the storm past?
The solution back then was much simpler, and it came in the form of Virion's willingness to support her, but no such gift was going to be given this time. She was on her own, and that knowledge was overwhelming.
She allowed herself to cry, only moving from her spot once the tears were completely dry. The setting sun illuminated her way back to camp, and once she was back, she went straight into her tent and slept, hoping that everything would somehow resolve itself in the morning.
Of course, it hadn't. Despite her strongest hopes, there was no way in hell she was going to see Yarne and immediately be blessed with the knowledge of how to handle the situation, which became painfully obvious when she couldn't bring herself to look directly at him without getting emotional. The next few days consisted of several similar mood swings, and many of them ended in Panne crying against a tree or in a clearing outside of camp. Every time, she would attempt to train Yarne and understand his cowardice and origins, and every time, he would be less receptive to the training than the last. Some days, Yarne would retreat to his father's tent, confusing his retainer and seeking solace and advice, and every time, he would be told the same thing. "My experience with her was during a time of pregnancy, so that was a special case."
The first time he heard it, Yarne huffed. "Yeah, but surely that's given you some clues or something."
Virion shook his head. "Here, sit in front of me."
"What...?" Yarne did as he was told despite the confusing command. The instant he was comfortable, Virion started picking at his hair. "H-hey what are you doing?"
"Your hair is just riddled with twigs and sticks. You are a Taguel, not shrubbery." His expression didn't change as he plucked the gunk from Yarne's hair, tossing it to the side when he was done.
Yarne couldn't help but laugh. "I didn't know you had a sense of humor, dad."
Virion finally cracked a smile at the sound of his son's laughter. "Your father is just full of surprises my boy."
"I don't suppose he could surprise me by telling me how to deal with my mother?" Yarne asked, causing Virion to bark a laugh of his own.
"Always the insistent one, I see. You get that from me." Yarne wasn't sure whether to thank his father for that or not, so he let him continue. "I don't have the foggiest idea of what your mother is trying to accomplish, but I see no harm in going along with it. If I learned anything from my time with her, it's that she has strange ways of accomplishing her goals. Don't be intimidated, just let her do what she does."
"Alright, I suppose I can try that," Yarne said, managing the best shrug he could without disturbing the hand probing his hair. "I mean, it's not like they're real battles, right? She won't kill me if I fail or anything."
"Exactly!" Virion finally retracted his hands from Yarne's head and clapped them together to clean them. "Now get out there and make your father proud.
"I will! And I'll put in a good word for you while I'm at it."
However, following his father's advice was easier said than done. The training sessions only ramped up in intensity and Panne would get frustrated no matter how hard Yarne tried to play along. Every time, Virion would say the same thing while cleaning out his son's hair, but it never made any more sense to him. It felt as if Panne was forgetting the whole training part and focusing on her anger towards Virion and the world in general, like that blue patch of hair was some sort of trigger. Finally, the frustration boiled over. "If you want to get to know me so bad, why don't you just talk to me?" Yarne demanded after one session in which his mother got particularly aggressive. "Surely there must be a less dangerous way!"
Panne reverted to her human form and tossed a hair-covered ear over her shoulder. "I am a warrior, and combat is the only way I know to learn someone."
Yarne seemed unconvinced. "Are you sure about that? I mean, you didn't learn anything about my father during the the time between conflicts?"
He knew mentioning his father would sour Panne's mood, and her face showed him he was absolutely right; but it was a gamble he needed to make. "Of course not."
Another gamble was about to come from his mouth, but he needed to say it. "Not even during the whole...erm, situation?"
Panne was completely taken aback. Yarne watched several variations of many different emotions swirl across her face before she hissed, "how do you know about that?"
"He told me," Yarne said flatly. "He told me everything."
"So you have been talking to him," Panne responded, disgust in her voice.
Yarne crossed his arms defiantly. "Yeah, I have. And maybe you should too!" It was as loud as he could ever remember speaking, and he could tell by listening to his mother's heartbeat that it caught her off guard.
Finally, she scoffed and shook her head. "Why should I? He doesn't care for us, and we shouldn't care for him."
Now, Yarne's adrenaline was leaving him, and his voice had gone back to being timid. "He cares for us than you might think. I know he wants to make things better, so maybe you should let him try."
"Everyone says that," Panne snapped, the frustration starting to get to her. "They don't know what I've been through. They don't know how it feels."
Another day, another training session doomed to end in tears. As Yarne turned to leave, he said, "he still cares, and someday, he'll find a way to prove it."
The time came sooner than either of them could have expected. Mere days later, the Shepherds found themselves storming the castle of the very man who destroyed Virion's home. Despite the high spirits about it (some even shouted obscenities at him jovially), it was a hard fought battle, and all of their efforts culminated in facing the man down in his throne room. That battle was even tougher due to the confined space, but the Shepherds pushed forward. Somewhere in the madness, Yarne and Panne found themselves facing down the Conqueror himself. "This is the guy that chased dad out of his country," Yarne growled, readying himself to pounce.
"Didn't stop him from going back," Panne grumbled before putting the pettiness aside for the time being. There was no use getting wrapped up in thinking about that when there was a battle to be fought, especially when he son was charging straight at—
Oh gods, Yarne was charging straight at the Conqueror. He took a swipe, but Walhart's surprisingly nimble horse moved out of the way, letting him smack his attacker with the broad side of his axe. Yarne went tumbling across the throne room floor and Walhart turned his attention to the advancing group behind Panne. "I know not what you are," he said in his booming, intimidating voice. "But I assume there are not many of you left. I do not wish to be responsible for the extinction of a species, so I will give you this single act of mercy. Do not waste it."
Panne could hear a distant voice telling her to fall back, and she knew not heeding her tactician's words could end in some stern words after this was all over, but watching Yarne get swatted like a fly enraged her past the point of being afraid of some manspawn's reprimands. Her unwavering battle stance caught Walhart's eye, and he finally looked directly at her with a raised eyebrow. "Do not think your words will sway me," Panne snarled. "We are the mighty Taguel, and we will not back down."
"Maybe backing down in the face of a megalomaniac dictator with a giant axe should become Taguel tradition," Yarne groaned, remaining quiet enough that only his mother could hear him. Despite the suggestion, he got to his feet and watched Walhart's profile as his face morphed completely.
In the blink of an eye, his expression changed from a calm, unperturbed one to that of unyielding rage. His eyes wide and teeth clenched, he roared, "so be it!" He hefted his axe over his shoulder and tossed it with the deadly precision only the Conqueror could manage. Luckily, Panne was faster, and while the axe stuck into the ground where she was a split-second ago, she was charging at him head-on.
"Mother!" Yarne was deadly terrified. If he wore pants, they would probably have been soiled, but he knew he couldn't let his mother do this alone.
Walhart barked a mocking laugh as he faced down the two beasts. "You think The Conqueror would so readily leave himself unarmed against even the weakest of foes?" In the blur of the instant, it seemed to manifest from nowhere, but before the Taguel knew it, he was wielding a wickedly sharp red sword. He pointed it at Panne, who tensed, ready to dodge at a split-second's notice, but when his attackers got closer, he turned it and slashed to his right, where Yarne was.
With a yelp, Yarne fell backwards, a huge gash opening in his chest. Panne wordlessly abandoned her assault and rushed to Yarne's side, where purple light was starting to dance around him. "Yarne, no," she snapped. "If you revert now, you'll bleed to death."
Those words coaxed another pathetic sound from her son, and he immediately stopped attempting to transform. "Mom..."
"Don't talk either," she said quickly, putting a paw on his shoulder. "I'll get you to a healer."
Panne saw the shadow on the tiled floor beneath Yarne, and it was one of a man with a giant axe above his head. She turned to see Walhart, his axe in hand once more, ready to strike. "Now I cleave you both in two with one fell swing!" The room seemed to rumble with his roar, and even Panne flinched at the sound. His axe came down, and Panne swiped at it with all her strength. Somehow, she managed to divert it just enough to send it into the ground at her side, but felt a stinging pain in her shoulder as she did. Even in her beast form, she had managed to dislocate her shoulder from the force. She turned and began attempting to move Yarne out of harm's way, but it was the wrong move. Walhart moved to swing his axe again, and Yarne cried out, but it was too late for Panne to react.
However, it wasn't too late for an arrow to sprout from a chink in Walhart's armor, causing him to miss a third, miraculous time. He turned to see a lone archer, knocking another arrow into his bow. "You leave my family alone," Virion demanded, causing a gasp to ripple through the Shepherds.
Walhart narrowed his eyes at Virion, who laughed at this reaction. "Ah, do you remember me, perhaps?"
A tense moment passed, but Walhart finally said, "no."
Virion blinked and shook his head indignantly as he watched Walhart pluck the arrow from his side without flinching. "Y-you don't? Virion? Duke of Roseanne? Nothing?"
"A horse does not remember the flies he swats with his tail," Walhart explained.
Virion shook his head. "No matter. You will remember me as the last man whose family you dared to mess with." He let fly his second arrow, which Walhart ducked out of the way of before charging. Virion's face paled as he watched the giant man and steed gallop toward him, but he managed to leap out of the way, hitting the ground hard and rolling back to his feet. He sprinted for Panne and Yarne's side, where he put a hand on Yarne's head. "Are you two okay?"
Panne was too shocked to respond, but Yarne made no secret of his condition. "I'm not okay. I need a healer."
"I'll get you one, son," Virion said, ruffling Yarne's hair. He then turned to Panne and asked, "and how are you?"
Panne's shocked expression couldn't even be hidden by her beast form as she wordlessly stared into his eyes. "You..."
"We have a lot to talk about," Virion said. "But for now, we need to save our son."
Panne was indignant for all of a second, starting with, "my..." but shaking the thought from her head. "You're right."
What Virion did next shocked Panne almost as much as the previous stunt. He took off his shirt. Before she could ask, he instructed Yarne to revert, and proceeded to quickly wrap the fabric around Yarne's wound. "This should stop the bleeding long enough for us to get you a healer."
Yarne nodded weakly. "Right..."
With that, Virion and Panne turned to face Walhart, who had gotten distracted by Chrom. "You think that's what you've done?" His voice boomed. "What your sister did before you? No, she shouted some nonsense and leapt off a rock! Such weakness!"
Panne's eyes narrowed at these accusations, and while Chrom delivered his level-headed response, she turned to Yarne and said, "Hang on just a little longer."
Virion nodded agreement. "I'll watch your back. You just focus on ripping his pompous head from his broad oaf shoulders."
"You are the last person to call someone pompous," Panne snapped.
Walhart leveled his axe at Chrom and said, "and longer than you will... Come then, flea, and die for your peace!"
"No more banter," Virion said, unable to hide his smile. "Go!"
As Chrom and Walhart's weapons clashed, Panne pounced, ripping into the back of Walhart's bright red armor. Her strength couldn't quite reach his skin, but he recoiled anyway, turning around with intent to hit her with the broad side of his axe. She ducked out of the way and nimbly moved to Chrom's side. "Er, thanks," Chrom said. "I hadn't realized you were still in fighting shape.
"You underestimate the Taguel," Panne said. "Just as he has."
"Right." Chrom nodded and jumped at Walhart with his sword at the ready. They clashed once more, but again their battle was cut short, but this time by one of Virion's arrows flying into the newly opened hole in his armor.
Walhart roared in pain and whirled around. He wasted no time in charging at his attacker, who still had the helpless Yarne behind him. Virion gulped, dropped his bow, and picked up Yarne in a bridal carry, attempting to run back to the safety of the Shepherds' ranks. Panne's heart dropped into her stomach as she watched Walhart close the distance between himself and Virion. "Panne, I know what you're thinking," Chrom warned. "Don't—"
Without hesitation, Panne bolted from Chrom's side, running as fast as her legs would take her. She knew the safest option would be to barrel into Virion and Yarne so all three of them could be taken to safety without her having to slow down at all, but that would have surely opened Yarne's wound back up. Robin probably would have had a better plan, but for Panne, the only option was...
She leapt in front of Walhart's axe as he brought it down, crying out in pain as the blade entered her back. Despite the pain, she kicked out with her hind legs blindly, somehow managing to take out the legs of Walhart's horse. Both he and his mount tumbled to the ground as Panne's front legs gave out from under her and she collapsed. "Mom!"
"Panne!" Virion came to a stop, whirling around to see Panne's lifeless form on the ground, the blade still in her back. Walhart scrambled to his feet, but before he could wrest his weapon from Panne's body, Chrom swooped in with the finishing blow.
"My conquest...ends here..." Walhart croaked as his life left his body.
The Conqueror, the man who brought so much pain and strife to Valm and its people, had perished. Virion's homeland was saved. The celebrations would have to wait though, because there were two badly injured bunnies that needed to be taken care of.