Author's Note: Hot-damn. How long has it been since I did anything here?

Anyway, hello! For those of you who don't know me, I originally published on this website with a Rosario + Vampire fanfiction, Thawing Permafrost. So much has happened and changed over the past few years that I no longer felt satisfied calling it a work I was proud of, so I've taken down all traces of it on the internet except its TvTropes page. A few of you asked me in PM's where it had gone, and I apologise for not reaching out. Perhaps, if I feel it - and there's demand - I'll revisit.

For now, I'm posting this as something of a pet project. I've had a fic in my head for ages and I finally found time to grease the wheels. I hope you enjoy it!

The Gate roared. Bolts of light broke from the carved stone and radiated out, filling the dais and blinding the man who'd stirred its timeless magics. "Chrom!" he yelled, "Tiki! I need you!"

A pair – one man garbed in white and a woman, wreathed in red – hastened to his side. Both recoiled as they drew near. "It's never done this before! What could it mean?"

Any answer they offered drowned under the crescendo of unleashed energy, washing over all gathered. It spat a shape from the starlight that came crashing to earth in a graceless heap, then faded as quickly as it had begun. The Gate settled, returning to silence.

Tiki was the first to stand. "What strength…"

"Quite," answered Chrom, who helped the middle man up, "Lykala, are you alright?"

Lykala dusted himself off, thanking Chrom. He wore a pale robe inlaid with woven gold and held tightly to a bizarre artefact in his left hand. "I'm fine. What could have caused that? Have you seen it before?"

"I believe," Tiki breathed, "Your answer is starting to wake up."

All eyes fixed on the former heap, who now started with a snarl that rolled into an awful, uncomfortable groan. He wore clothes unfamiliar to all gathered, and though he kept to his position on the ground, they could see the man for the warrior he was.

Or, at the very least, the warrior his uncountable scars suggested.

"Friend?" Chrom inquired, taking a slow step forward. His blue eyes didn't blink, gauging the stranger. Gauntlets, heavy and wrapped in decorative red plate – but besides that, he wore very little armour. He asked the stranger the same question he'd asked Lykala, who now joined in the approach. "Are you alright? Are you hurt?"

"Thal's balls…" came the reply – and though none of them knew the name whose scrotum he grumbled about, they recognised a curse when they heard one. He fell back onto his rear, sitting upright and pressing a palm to his forehead. "This isn't an aetheryte I know of…"

Tiki let slip a small gasp, for she found it harder to find a patch of healthy flesh on him. Indeed, the whole of the summoned stranger's body seemed twisted and disfigured, and that was only what she could see, for he kept most of it wrapped. His face, too – black cloth bound the left half of his face, forming something of a headband to manage a shock of dark red hair. The man finally opened his uncovered eye, green like spring grass, and the stranger snapped to immediate action. He shunted from his feet, keeping low and making ready to-

"Easy, easy!" Chrom's voice staggered the stranger's assault. He shouted, holding both hands out and stepping between Lykala and the stranger. In so doing, he commanded the entirety of his attention. "We're not here to hurt you."

From his vantage, Chrom saw the man's eyes snap down to his waist; more accurately, to the scabbard strapped to his side. Each of them received similarly wary, similarly rapid scrutiny. "What's your name, friend?" asked Chrom.

"Where am I?" the stranger returned, with a voice like gravel churned underfoot. It held a breathless quality, and each question came at the end of an inhalation. "Who are you?"

"My name is Chrom. I'm a Shepherd. This is Lykala – that's Tiki over there. You're safe, I promise you that."

"Safe!" scoffed the stranger, clearing his throat. Still, he rose to full height, and the gathering relaxed as he did so. "I don't see a crook."

"Not that kind of shepherd. What's your name?"

"Will you tell me where I am if I answer?"

Chrom paused. Tiki caught the frown carved into the stranger's face, answering before her comrades could. "You're in Askr – rather, you were summoned here. The Gate," she pointed a gloved finger just behind him, "Summons Heroes, and it called you in answer to Lykala's plea. Chrom and I arrived in a similar fashion."



The man looked between the three of them, his hum the rattle of struggling lungs. "Not you, though."

"Not me," Lykala answered, holding to some of the tension that had eased, "I summoned you."

"Right – then you can unsummon me."


"End the spell. Release your magic." Each demand came with rising intensity, a fire stoked by his apparent agitation. "I don't want to be here, and I assure you that I'm neither one of your Heroes, nor do I desire to be. End the spell."

Lykala looked to the artefact in his hand. "It doesn't work that way."

"What?" he snapped.

"It doesn't work that way!" Lykala answered, louder. The stranger 's brow arched, incredulity replacing anger.

"You're joking," said he.

"I'm not."

He looked to Tiki. She shook her head. "He's not."

"You're not joking."

"We just-"

"Perhaps." Tiki continued, stepping forward, "We should start at the beginning. Inside, when our new guest has taken a moment to collect himself."

"I'm not going anywhere," the stranger replied, taking a step back. He wobbled dangerously and nearly crashed back into the dais, "Even if I wanted to…"

"Well," she considered him, "When you are ready, Lykala and Chrom will come to you. I will stay here. Is that acceptable?"

"Tiki-" Chrom began, but she was prepared for the protest.

"The Gate's never behaved so violently before. Anna and the others need to know – and I think right now, our guest trusts us about as far as he can throw us. I'll stay here. If he's willing, we can try this again."

She levelled a smile at the stranger, who'd steadied himself by returning to his seat on the floor. She joined him, sweeping a cape of delicate pink underneath her and smiled despite an unblinking stare. If she had to liken it to anything, it would be a starving, cornered beast. "Go on," she urged, looking to Lykala with a meaningful dip in her tone, "Before they come to us."

Realising that there was no argument, Lykala span and walked with Chrom towards the palace from whence they'd come. Tiki and the stranger both caught the fervent, hurried words they exchanged along the way.

He looked to her, frown unbroken. "What kind of summoner can't release his thralls?"

Tiki replied patiently, "Do you think you'd be able to resist so if we were mere thralls?"

His expression emptied of ire, ceding her point. After a moment, Tiki began again. "This is hard for you. It is for all of us, when we arrive. Will you at least tell me your name?"

"Rooks," rasped he.

"Rooks." Tiki nodded.

He gauged the woman who'd so masterfully taken control of the sparking confrontation as she looked him up and down. Tall, slender. She wore a full length of green hair up in a ribbon that matched her brilliant red dress and boots, as well as the jewel set into the gold crest adorning her forehead. Her eyes seemed so very full of life, closer to a blooming meadow that his own gaze of trampled grass. He found her ears next, long and tapering to a point. "Elezen?"

"Pardon?" she replied, which said enough to answer the question.


Tiki tipped her head but didn't press. "Where are you from?"

"Where was I taken from?" Rooks snapped.

"If you wish to phrase it so."


"Is that a kingdom?" He narrowed his eye. Tiki's smile didn't break. "Apologies. 'Tis always exciting to meet new Heroes."

"Stop calling me that. I told you, I'm not-"

"Not a hero, yes. You're rather full of refusals."

"I've been brought here against my will by a summoner who can't summon properly." Rooks balled his fists. "You'll forgive me for not warming quite so quickly as you apparently have."

Tiki made to answer, but the man shot to his feet and approached the Gate. A tall monument, carved of stone far older than any in the area. Its dais overlooked a sprawling landscape, walled off by mountains that conquered the horizon. He stared through the hole in the centre of the Gate's mural. Thick lines crossed and wound into the shape of a tree in full bloom. He looked through and saw the sky, blue and endless like the one he'd arrived from. "It was raining." He rumbled.

"In Eorzea?" asked Tiki.


"Askr's weather is mostly agreeable."

Focussing on something other than his predicament seemed to have softened the edge Rooks held up to deflect attempts to reach him. "You said your name was Tiki?"

"Chrom did, but yes."

"Family name?"

"Not where I'm from."

"Where's that?"

"'Twas called Archanea." Tiki explained. Her cape fluttered in the breeze as she turned away from him, picking some noise beyond his hearing. "I believe they're returning."

"The not-summoner and the not-shepherd?" Rooks asked.

She laughed, a quiet and breathy noise. "Yes. Lykala and Chrom, if you want to be polite. I think Anna's with them, too."

She caught him tensing as she looked back, hunching slightly forward. "She's the Commander of the barracks yonder. Straightforward, like you."

He made a face that didn't pull his scars into harsh, carven valleys, and for the first time offered some glimpse of the man beneath the mangling. Anxious? No – wary. He didn't seem the type to fret over naught, Tiki mused; rather, he saw the threat his circumstances presented. Outnumbered and isolated.

Now that she thought on it, his reaction did seem entirely sensible, but the group arrived before she could sympathize.

Anna took the lead. A red-head, like Rooks, but hers was like the heart of a fire, where his was more akin to rust, or autumn leaves. She dressed in tunic and plate that bore much of the same colour and designs as the summoner behind her; and the Gate, now that he'd had time to study it. Plate that favoured her left arm, helped her face her opponents. His eye narrowed and folded his arms, rasped. "You must be Anna."

"You have my name," she replied, offering a grin, "Lykala tells me you're refusing us yours."

"Not refusing," Rooks returned, "You're not asking right. Tiki knows it."

"I see. Tiki?"

For either his mirth or his agency, Tiki suddenly engaged herself with the distant landscape. Anna exhaled. "Right. Could I have your name, please?"


"Thank you."

"Not so hard, was it?"

Lykala made a face, dipping behind the hood of his robe. Anna stepped forward to and offered a hand. "You know my name, but I'm Anna, Commander of the Order of Heroes."

"You're an order? Listen, I don't know what your not-summoner told you, but I'm no hero. I don't belong here."

"Not-summoner?" Lykala piped up. Rooks smirked.

"What kind of summoner can't control his summoned?"


"We're not about control," Anna interjected before Lykala could complete the thought, "Precisely the opposite, actually. Will you join us inside? At least there we can eat. You must be hungry."

"I'm not," Rooks replied, but he nevertheless opened his arm out, "After you."

They filed in from the summoning field to the palace proper. Anna took the lead; Lykala and Chrom, talking fervently about something of apparent importance, claimed the middle; Rooks with Tiki at the back. From there, he could take in the building in all its grandeur. Spacious hallways opening onto dearly-tended courtyards, tall doors of old wood that creaked under any movement. He'd spied a keep on the approach, too. Their footsteps echoed loud, boots and feels clacking, plate and scabbards rattling. He noted that Anna didn't carry a weapon, only Chrom and Lykala, with their sword and… what was that? A gun? A focus? Most curious.

More curious, he thought, and eventually voiced… "Where is everyone?"

"Busy," Anna answered, "The Order has their hands full most days. Sharena and Alfonse are in the city, uh… Robin's out with the scouts…"

She listed a few off, but Rooks didn't pay attention long enough to count the rest of the names. That she stopped not long after he moved on confirmed one suspicion, though, and planted a dreadful seed in the pit of his stomach. It hollowed him out, and if he didn't know better, it would feel a lot like hunger.

"In here," Anna said with a huff. She pushed open another grand set of doors. These opened onto a large chamber filled with a massive table that dominated most of the room. On second glance, Rooks realized that it was not one, it was a half-dozen, all pushed and organized in such a way as to allow people to pass around each with minimal disruption. A staggering number of scattered documents masked the sectioning, and the closest of these he investigated as they filed in. Charts, maps, lists, books. Small carven figures of two different designs…

"This is a war room," said he.

"You're very perceptive," Tiki noted, smiling at him as she passed. Lykala and Chrom took to their own corner, paying especial attention to the map there.

Anna fixed Rooks clear in his eye. "That you are. You've seen them before?"

"Only in passing," he rumbled, still taking in more details, "Which side are you?"

He pointed to the collection of figures. About sixty percent of the maps had black figures dominating their features, including the one the two men worried over. Only a few had any large portion of carven white standards.

Anna's smile wavered. "You've no shortage of wit."

"Who's your enemy?"

"Embla, Askr's bordering nation."

Rooks finally turned his eye to Anna. Each question he asked came sharp and succinct, like the flash of a knife. "Why Heroes?"

"Both kingdoms have worked with Heroes in the past," she explained, "We maintained a fragile peace borne from the end of the last war, up until a few months ago. Embla's new leader, Veronica, overturned her mother's rule and turned her eyes – and her Heroes – on Askr."

"It doesn't take a noble bearing to mark one as a Hero," Tiki interjected, "Only great talent and skill. Thusly marked, they can be summoned and bound."

"Bound?" Rooks lashed to face her – the woman did not flinch, but for the first time since their meeting, she was not smiling. Her lips pressed together in grave silence. Her next words came with clear care.

"A contract binds all who enter into service as a Hero. A binding oath of fealty to whomever holds it."

Rooks turned to glare at Lykala's back. The man stood very still – and he was no longer talking. Tiki continued, speeding up. "The contracts Askr holds are never exploited, and they can be dissolved at the Hero's willing. It is one of the guiding tenets of the Order of Heroes. Embla has no such compunction."

"What happens when one dissolves?"

"Their service ends and they're free to do as they please."

"Meaning they can go home?"

Anna and Tiki exchanged a look. Anna nodded, and Tiki continued whilst rounding the table to face Rooks. She moved into his blind spot to do so, causing him to immediately turn and track her. "Most Heroes are recruited from their own world. Such travel has always been possible in this realm. Askrans have the power to open portals; Emblians can close them. When a contract is refused or dissolved, most Heroes are already in their home realm. Lykala's summoning is different. He can call us to him, like a beacon in a storm."

"Alright," Rooks tapped his palm against the table, "So you can just open a portal to my world and I can go home. Easy."

"You'd expose your world to the horrors of Embla's reach!" Anna blurted, her contained frown finally bursting into a gout of frustration. "Weren't you listening? Only Emblians can close the portals that Askrans open. So long as we're at war, they won't do that. They'll invade your world and take whomever they can into their service!"

"I'd like to see them try," he murmured.

"How can you be so selfish!?" Anna shouted.

"Selfish?" Rooks snapped back, needing not the impressive volume she managed to make his point. His voice dropped into a fearsome, rasping growl. "You drag me from my home with no way to return me, ask me to fight in a war that is not mine – and then you have the gall to call me selfish?"

"No-one asked you to fight." Tiki offered.

"That was the next question, wasn't it?" His fist slammed into the table. "That's why I'm here. Why your summoner can't look me in the eye. He's summoned someone you can't beguile into this godsforsaken war!"

"We had no idea the Gate would behave so! No idea that it would summon you. It's never behaved like this."

"And now he speaks!" Rooks exclaimed, whipping an arm in Lykala's direction. He saw Chrom's steeling glare in the corner, saw the way he reached for his blade. He pressed on undaunted. "Now he speaks, to make excuses. To say I'm sorry, I never meant to rip you from all you know and love, to die on some blood-soaked battlefield."

Anna's bluster failed. Lykala's gaze dropped to the floor. Only Tiki and Chrom still watched; the latter with silent judgement – the former with some twisted shade of empathy. Rooks tapped his gauntlet against the table one more time.

"I'm leaving."

No-one protested. A few minutes after the door slammed behind him, Anna cleared her throat and pushed back her fringe. "We knew that some would say no."

"Indeed," Chrom replied, "But to be so violent about it-"

"Did you see him?" Anna gestured at the door. "That was probably as nice as he gets. He's fought in more wars than we've fought battles!"

"Not all of us," replied he, with a nod to Tiki, "Tiki? What do you think?"

The woman had eyes for the door, and ears for even less. Chrom cleared his throat. "Tiki?"


"What do you think? What should we do?"

"I think he's right," she replied, matter-of-fact, "And I think he should not be abandoned to Embla."

"It's not like he's going to- Hey! Tiki!"

She barely registered Anna's yell as she pushed her way out onto the hall. Instinct told her to hook left and retrace their steps. No doubt he'd seek an open field, away from patrolling guards and any hint of the kingdom that had stolen him from hearth and home.

It did not take long; breaking into a run saw her catch up to the stormy Rooks as he broke out of the palace and made a beeline for the Gate – for the cliff beyond it. Her heart twisted. Surely not!


Rooks hurled himself back towards her, spinning sharply on his heel. For one terrible moment she envisioned the cold press of his gauntlets around her throat. He did not move. He watched, eye wild, but kept rooted to the spot her call had frozen him.

Tiki dared to approach, to bridge the gap. "Wait. Please."

Rooks kept his stance clear. She hadn't realised it, but Tiki had also dropped into something of a ready stance. "You think you're going to stop me?" he challenged.

"No. I'm not here to stop you. You're right – 'twas wrong of us to summon you here, accident or no. You've been shorn from your home without permission and we don't know how to get you back." She drew to full height, eyes closing. "Words mean next to nothing to a man of your ilk – and apologies from strangers even less."

He snarled. "Don't think to presume-"

"I think to help you!" Tiki yelled, voice finally pitching above its preternatural calm. "There's naught but crags, wilderness, and Emblian scouts beyond the reaches of Askran territory. I've no doubt you can handle the first two by yourself, but at least let me fetch you some equipment for the last. Anything you need."

Like Anna before him, Rooks's rage emptied. Tiki's words struck sure and true, and given any circumstance he could not fault her logic. He took a long, slow, rattling breath. His nose filled with the scents of an alien spring, of flowers he did not know and life he could never hope to understand. "You've a good heart." He whispered, retreating from his scowl and his hunch. "And I'm sure they do too, to fight a war with such poor odds."

"They fight because they love their home – as do Chrom and I. Askr is a beautiful place." Tiki found a smile, bowed her head. "I cannot force that upon you. If you see it for yourself, perhaps…"

A rustle caught her ears. She looked back up – and Rooks was gone, with only the faintest trace of his blazing presence left to scatter on the wind.