So... life kind of got in the way, plus I got distracted by a bunch of stuff, but I finally finished with this not quite as short as I expected story.
Hope you like it
Without further ado...
"Let me get this straight," Hector spoke up. "Pent's father was an ass, so you became the Master… Mistress of Death. Duke Andre was nice to you, and all of a sudden you're a decent person who's capable of mercy and values human life?"
"That… is a gross oversimplification," Katherine replied in a flat, unamused voice. "Albeit, perhaps not completely inaccurate. In any case… Over the next few years, there were some small skirmishes, minor disputes with Etruria, military exercises, and so on. In addition, I also continued teaching classes at the academy. I had a good husband, a job I liked, money, status, respect, and anything else I could've asked for." Katherine smiled for a few seconds, though it soon turned into a grimace. "But… all good things must come to an end."
"You said your husband died not long before you met Lyn," Eliwood spoke gently. "Am I correct in assuming-"
"You are." As she sat in sullen silence, Katherine recalled her conversation with Hector's brother at the Ostian fortress. Although she'd recognized his condition (having watched her husband succumb to the same illness), Uther had made her promise to keep it a secret for fear that it would affect Hector's resolve. "However, that was only the beginning. A month after he died, I gave birth to a little boy, but death came for him as well. The gods saw fit to give my husband sixty two years to live. You'd think they might have granted my son more than three days."
"That must have been difficult," Lyn said, laying a hand on her friend's arm.
"It was. I went through the motions, grieving, accepting sympathies, and all the platitudes. Later I returned to my post as royal tactician to try to take my mind off things, but time waits for no one. I received news of a… disturbance on the frontier." Katherine frowned at this. "To call it a rebellion would be a joke, seeing as it was nothing more than a group of unarmed peasants who didn't even want to fight. Turns out one of Bern's generals had drummed up a fake rebellion to enhance his military career."
"And… what did you do?" Hector asked cautiously.
"By the time I arrived, all I could do was force the general to stop before things got worse," Katherine answered. "Unfortunately, when I confronted King Desmond, things… did not go in my favour. The king defended the general's actions and told me to know my place. Furthermore, the general tried to implicate me in the whole mess the same way he did with the few soldiers who tried to stop their comrades. My status as royal tactician and Duke Andre's widow saved me from his accusations, but it was clear I was walking on thin ice. So, when the general died a few days later, I ran away before anyone could come for me."
"Katherine," Lyn spoke up "When I found you unconscious on the plains, I assumed you'd been attacked by bandits and left for dead. But now I can't help but wonder…"
"Had it been bandits, I could've handled them easily enough," Katherine said. "But the Black Fang... that was a different story."
Katherine held her cloak tightly as she plodded through the town market, having spent the last few days unable to find any merchant, trader or other such person heading towards Bulgar. Although her inquiries had been made under the pretext that there was safety in numbers, her real reason was discretion, as a woman travelling alone after 'Robin' was branded a murderer would draw more attention than she cared for. 'If I don't find anyone by the end of the day, I may just take my chances alone,' Katherine thought to herself as she walked into the inn where she'd been staying. 'So long as I keep my wits about me, I should be fine.'
Unfortunately, as she was walking across across the common room, a large man bumped into her, causing several items to spill out of her bag. "Sorry, luv," he said.
"It's fine," she muttered, kneeling down to grab her belongings.
"Eh, what's this?" the man wondered, picking something up off the floor.
Katherine looked up at the man and saw him holding the silver comb she'd worn on her wedding day. "Excuse me, but that's mine. May I have it back?" she asked politely, holding her hand out.
"Nice little piece," he remarked, looking it over in an interested manner.
"Yes, it is. May I please have it back?" she asked again.
"Where'd a woman like you get something so shiny?" he wondered.
"It was a gift from a friend," Katherine answered cooly. "And I would very much appreciate it if you were to return it to me."
"And, uh… just how much would you appreciate it?" he asked. "Sounds to me like it's real precious to you, little lady. I'm just wondering what you'll do to get it back." His lecherous grin gave a pretty good idea what he was expecting.
Although several people were watching the spectacle unfold, no one seemed like they wanted to interfere. "Sir, I will ask you one last time to give it back." The man seemed amused as he held the comb out of her reach, aided by the fact that he was quite a bit taller. Katherine was mentally preparing herself to cast a spell in case things got out of hand when he was suddenly struck by lightning, causing him to drop into a twitching mess on the floor.
Everyone looked in the direction the spell had come from and saw a well dressed woman with dark hair, hand extended and sparks dancing on her fingertips. Katherine put her things away in her bag as the woman walked over, the tap-tap of her staff hitting the floor heard throughout the otherwise silent room. She looked down at the man and nudged him with her foot. "If someone could take this imbecile away, that would be lovely." Two men picked up their companion and left. "Are you alright?" she asked Katherine.
"I'm fine. Thank you… my lady," she added, taking note of her fine clothes and posture. Katherine had also caught a glimpse of the woman's magical aura when she'd cast her spell.
"Oh, that's quite alright. Would you care to join me at my table?" the woman offered.
"My lady is too kind, but I-"
"Surely you wouldn't begrudge me a simple request after helping you with that ruffian?" she insisted with a small smile.
"As you wish, my lady." Once seated, the woman poured them both some wine and offered a plate of bread, cheese and fruit.
The woman, who introduced herself as Elayna, made idle conversation with Katherine as they ate and drank, inquiring as to who she was, where she came from, what she did, and so on and so forth. Given 'Robin's' fugitive status, Katherine was careful with her answers, avoiding the whole truth, and directing the flow of conversation when she could. "So tell me, where will you be going now?" Elayna asked.
"Bulgar, although I'm not too keen on travelling alone, given the bandit population up north," Katherine answered.
"Well then, you're in luck," Elayna said. "It just so happens that I'm on my way to Bulgar as well, and there's certainly room in my carriage for one more. Why don't you come with me?"
"Are you certain?"
"Of course. I'd welcome some good company on the trip."
Katherine couldn't help but be a little suspicious of the circumstances, even though Elayna herself seemed genuine. Despite her reservations, she knew that travelling with a noblewoman would give her better chances in case they ran into any guards, so she decided to proceed with caution. "In that case, I hope I'll live up to your expectations," she replied, nodding politely. Once they were finished, Elayna led Katherine to the stables where her carriage with two horses was waiting, along with her driver.
Katherine soon caught on to two things that were out of place. The first was how Elayna's driver seemed surprised when she instructed him to continue on the way to the Bulgar. Only for a split second, but enough for the tactician to notice. The other was how he brushed a hand against Katherine's bag (where she kept her spell book) as he helped her step into the carriage, then immediately leaned in to whisper a few words to his mistress before taking his place up top.
A few hours into their drive they'd left the town far behind, having met only one patrol which, as Katherine had predicted, had been no trouble. "Tell me, you wouldn't happen to be a magician, would you?" Elayna inquired innocently.
"Why do you ask?" Katherine replied.
"Curiosity. After all, a woman of your stature, seemingly unarmed and travelling all by herself would present an easy target for anyone with ill intentions. Surely you must have some means to defend yourself."
"As a scholar I admit I have some knowledge of magic, though that hardly means I can shoot lightning out of my hands," Katherine said dismissively. She could feel a prickling sensation over her skin as Elayna's magic brushed against her, though she resisted the urge to push back and kept her own magic hidden. "And besides, if I were a mage, wouldn't you be able to read my aura? You seem well versed in the magical arts."
A small smirk crept up on Elayna's face. "True… but with enough skill, a caster could mask their aura."
Katherine raised a questioning eyebrow. "And if I were skilled enough to do that, surely I could handle a ruffian without your help."
"Surely you could. Although if you were trying not to draw attention to yourself, dropping a man with a flick of your wrist would be a poor way to go about it." Tension hung in the air as both women stared at each other. "Of course, if you were keeping your magical potential hidden, that might make one wonder what else you're hiding."
"One might also wonder why you only came to my aid after that ruffian held up my comb for all to see," Katherine remarked. "One might think you'd recognized it from somewhere."
"It does bear a certain resemblance to the one worn by the former Royal Tactician Lady Robin on her wedding day, though I'm certain it's nothing more than a strange coincidence." Elayna looked at Katherine as if challenging her.
"Almost as strange as General Ayers dropping dead," Katherine pointed out.
"Most people seem to believe Lady Robin killed him out of revenge," Elayna suggested.
"And I believe he was a cruel man, brutal, greedy, and overall despised by the common folk. The kind of man who might be marked for death by the Black Fang."
The staring contest continued in silence for several seconds, until Elayna began to chuckle. "My, my… you are clever. What gave me away?"
"You're a good actress, but your driver couldn't quite mask his surprise when you told him we were heading to Bulgar," Katherine explained, keeping her eyes on Elayna. "He also has at least a modicum of magical skill, otherwise he wouldn't have sensed my spell book when he helped me into the carriage, something he was too eager to share with you."
"I'll have to have a word with him." Not taking her eyes off of her target, Elayna opened a slot behind her to call for the driver to stop.
They exited either side of the carriage, with the driver taking his mistress' side as they faced off at the edge of the Sacaean plains, getting a sense for each other's magical aura. "Before we begin, I have to say, I honestly don't know why you bother dragging this… mongrel around with you," Katherine motioned to Elayna's driver.
The man growled in annoyance. "Mongrel? You-"
"Quiet, dog," Katherine interrupted, turning her attention to Elayna. "Really, he's only holding you back."
Elayna shrugged her shoulders. "He has his uses."
Katherine scoffed and waved her hand dismissively. "Not like he's actually a threat. Silence, boy, the adults are talking," she added when it looked like he was going to speak. "Tell me, my lady… who are you, really?"
"Allow me to re-introduce myself," the Black Fang woman said with mock politeness. "I am Elayna the Dread Raven, one of the Four Fangs."
"Pleasure to meet you," Katherine said in a similar tone. "Unlike your pathetic little mutt."
The man flung a bolt of Elfire at Katherine, who covered her hand in dark magic and redirected the attack at Elayna, adding her own power to it. This kept her busy long enough for Katherine to cast a spell of her own, robes billowing as a magic circle appeared under her feet. Elayna saw six large black orbs circle her ally an instant before they struck, tearing through his magical defences and killing him on the spot. Katherine stood calm and collected as Elayna looked back at her with narrowed eyes, and then the magical duel began in earnest.
Dark magic met fire and lightning as the combatants flung spells at each other. Though Elayna was young and full of energy, Katherine herself was powerful, and experienced. Katherine ducked and weaved through several fireballs, deflected an Elfire, and summoned a sphere of dark energy overhead when Elayna brought a lightning bolt down on her. The sphere broke into separate tendrils which slithered into the ground, travelling unseen until a magical rune appeared under the Black Fang's feet. Fortunately for her, she was able to sense the attack and dived out of the way as the tendrils came up to strike at her, flinging an Elfire to buy herself a moment's reprieve.
Elayna jumped up and made a several gestures with her hand while chanting an incantation, releasing another more powerful Elfire. Katherine summoned a shield of dark energy and braced herself as the spell struck, scorching the ground black. Elayna vanished in a flash of magic, intending to teleport behind Katherine and catch her by surprise. However, she herself was caught off guard when Katherine spun around just as she reappeared. A crunch sounded out when Katherine's fist collided with Elayna's nose, staggering her. Katherine immediately followed up with a Flux orb at point-blank range, which, even hastily cast, had enough power to toss her like a rag doll. Katherine walked towards her stunned foe, a spell in hand ready to finish her off. As she aimed her spell at Elayna's head, she sensed something a moment before several inches of cold steel plunged into her back. It was only thanks to a quick movement on her part that it was not a killing blow. Katherine released her spell behind her on instinct, knocking her assailant away, then stumbled and turned around.
Her attacker was a man with spiky red hair, an emotionless face, dressed in dark clothes and wielding a wicked looking dagger soaked in her blood. She flung a bolt of dark magic at him, but he jumped out of the way and came at her with uncanny speed. Casting several Flux spells in quick succession, she managed to clip him with one at the same time as he flung a dagger that embedded itself in her right thigh. And while Katherine fell to her knees, the assassin simply rolled with the blow, minimizing any damage. Feeling herself grow weak, Katherine knew that this was no longer a fight she could win. She might have been tempted to teleport away, safe that Elayna would likely be able to follow her trajectory just as she'd done to her.
'Only one way out of this,' Katherine thought to herself, then dropped her spell book and raised her hands.
"There's no point in surrendering," Elayna said, the way she held onto her staff betraying her own injuries.
"I just thought you might… let me live… a bit longer," Katherine replied, grimacing in pain.
Elayna bore a smirk of smug satisfaction at seeing Katherine like this. She held up a hand to signal her companion to hold. "Let her. She's going to die anyway."
"Your friend… he's good," Katherine commented. "Not many people… can sneak up on me."
"Even among the Black Fang, Jaffar's skills are legendary," Elayna said. "You should be honoured to face not one, but two of the Four Fangs."
'Just a little more,' Katherine thought, mentally gathering her power for one big push. "I'm flattered… your master… thinks so highly of me."
"You are skilled, I'll grant you that, but now… you're like a rat in a trap." Elayna glanced at her companion for a second. "If you don't mind, I've been looking forward to this."
"Finish her," Jaffar said simply, his voice as devoid of emotion as his face.
"Something you should know… Lady Elayna…" Katherine spoke up, an edge to her voice. "Even a cornered rat is dangerous." She suddenly pulled the dagger from her thigh and stabbed it into her spell book, which she then threw at Elayna, unleashing a blast of dark magic from her hands. The tome crackled with magical energy as it flew towards Elayna like a ballista bolt. The Black Fang woman tried to defend herself with a barrier, only to have it crumble as the dark tome exploded with magical energy, consuming her in a torrent of black fire. Then before Jaffar could get to her, Katherine used the last of her power to teleport away, whereupon she found herself in the middle of the grassy plains, with not a soul in sight. She tried to get to her feet, but with no strength left she collapsed and soon lost consciousness.
"This does raise a question," Eliwood spoke up once Katherine was finished. "Why was the Black Fang trying to kill you?"
"I can't be certain," she replied. "Maybe they uncovered my connection to the Master of Death, or were hired to kill Lady Robin. But… given what we now know about Nergal, it's possible he simply wanted my quintessence. So… there you have it. Whatever happens next… that's up to you."
There was a moment of silence as the lords considered Katherine's story. "I didn't know you before, but I know who you are now," Lyn spoke frankly. "You're Katherine. You're my friend, and I trust you with my life."
"Whatever your past sins, I believe that you're a good person," Eliwood said, a sincere expression on his face. "You're an invaluable member of our army, and I hope we can continue to count on you."
The others all looked at Hector, waiting for his verdict. "I don't like this," he grumbled, none too happy. "Still… you got us this far, plus Lyn and Eliwood are willing to give you a chance, so I guess I will too. But I'll be keeping an eye on you."
Katherine simply nodded, taking it in stride. "I understand. And thank you. All of you."
"Thank you for trusting us," Lyn said, laying a hand on her friend's shoulder.
"Well, this has been interesting, to say the least," Eliwood piped up, sounding like he was in a good mood. "But I think it's time we all got some rest. We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow."
"Try not to stay up too late, will you?" Lyn teased Katherine.
"No promises, Lyn," she shot back, giving her an amused smirk. They all bade each other good night and the lords left Katherine's room, with Hector warning her not to give him cause to regret his decision.
When she finally crawled into bed, Katherine felt like a weight had been taken off her chest. Even though she knew the days to come would present their own challenges, she had faith that things would work out. As sleep began to take her, a content smile graced her lips.
"Elayna the Dread Raven" is a character I made up completely (Elayna being the name of the tactician in my previous FE7 story). She's basically Ursula's predecessor in the Four Fangs (so, Ursula got the job because of Katherine).
The flashback scene was a bit long, especially building up to the fight itself. I wanted to have a kind of "I know that you know that I know" type conversation between Katherine and Elayna.
Also, that bit about cornered rats was taken from a quote from Winston Churchill. The full quote is: "Beware of driving men to desperation. Even a cornered rat is dangerous."
Aaaaaaaaaaand that's the end!