When one of her father’s men burst into the throne room bearing word that Grado soldiers had finally reached and breached Castle Renais, Eirika felt like the world was ending. How could the guards have fallen so fast? How could Grado have crushed them so quickly, so assuredly? How could Lyon have allowed this to happen? They were friends, weren’t they? Grado had shown no signs of aggression in the past. But suddenly everything had changed, and now her father was ordering Seth to take her to safety as he stayed and waited for his death and she didn’t know what to do.
She followed Seth, of course. She had no other option. Not when he grabbed her wrist and ran to the room’s exit, turning over and over as he went through secret passages and main halls alike to get them to the stables without encountering any of the Grado soldiers.
When they arrived, they found the horses had been slaughtered. Well. Not slaughtered, exactly. Some still lived. But they’d all been cut across the legs and were crumpled to the floors of their respective stalls, either bleeding to death or already dead.
Seth let out a curse under his breath when he saw their escape route had been cut off. A quiet one, as he would never curse so loudly or do anything so improper in Eirika’s presence. But she heard him whisper something, and given the situation she knew it had to be some sort of curse even if it was too quiet for her to make out the exact words.
He asked her to close her eyes. She did. She heard a few whinnies after that, and when he allowed her to open them again, she saw the necks of the previously-surviving horses had been slashed. He’d given them a hastened death. A mercy.
“What now?” Eirika asked, eyeing the door that led to the area where she knew Grado troops would come from once they located her.
Seth frowned, pacing slightly. Then, he paused, a light in his eyes.
“Franz,” he said, grabbing her by the wrist again and pulling her out of the stables. He was gentle with her despite the urgency of his movements, the two breaking out into a run once they’d exited the building.
“Franz. As you know, I sent him ahead to warn Frelia of the attack and ask them to prepare for your arrival. He had to have visited the stables to grab his mount before he departed. His body was nowhere to be seen, so he must have departed before the Grado soldiers broke in. And if he did…”
They had reached a patch of forest next to the castle as Seth trailed off, dodging fallen logs and wild branches in their flight.
There, in a clearing, was a horse, saddled and ready.
“Thank you, Franz,” Seth whispered, guiding Eirika to the horse.
He gave her his hand and helped her mount it, lifting her up to make sure she did not fall. He then mounted it himself, sitting behind Eirika and wrapping his arms around her to take the reins.
“Pardon my closeness, my lady, but I fear there is no other way. I apologize if this is uncomfortable, but I have no other horses and we haven’t the time to reach Frelia with one of us on foot. I promise to secure a steed for you as soon as possible, but until then we must continue as we are.”
Eirika felt a blush form upon her cheeks. She was grateful Seth was behind her and could not see.
She shook her head to will the blush away. “There is no need to apologize, Seth. Were it not for you I would be dead, or soon to be so. I am grateful for the assistance no matter how it may come.”
Seth hummed. “You praise me too much, my lady. I am simply doing my duty. Any knight in my position would do the same.”
“Attempt the same, perhaps. But no other knight of Renais is as capable as you; had they tried the same, they would have died as well. It is only thanks to your skill and thoughtfulness that the two of us yet live,” Eirika retorted.
Whatever Seth planned to say was cut off by a terrible screeching sound that rang through the sky.
“Damn…!” he shouted, making Eirika’s eyebrows shoot up and heart race.
Seth cursed. Not the tiny, near silent thing from the stables. A real, loud, heart pounding curse. He was never so loud. Hardly ever so passionately angry.
“What was that?” Eirika asked, shifting in the saddle so she could get a look at Seth’s expression.
His eyes darted between the ground in front of them, a blur at the speed they were traveling, and the skies up above, only temporarily visible as they passed under the forest canopy.
“A wyvern. Characteristic of Grado’s best soldiers.”
They had been found?
“Can we outrun them? They can’t land in the forest, can they? As long as we stay here we should be safe. Perhaps they will pass us by if we stay still.”
“Would that that were true, my lady, but they have already seen us. If we wait here, foot soldiers will be sent after us. We cannot outrun them if we are cornered. We have to keep going and pray that the winds turn in our favor and slow the wyvern enough that it cannot catch up. If it is General Glen, I fear we have a low chance of escape,” Seth explained.
Eirika turned front, swallowing hard. “Then let it not be Glen. Let it be another. A young soldier, unused to their flying steed. Someone who cannot make good chase. Please…”
Seth did not respond. He instead focused on the ride, hard and fast as he tried to dodge all the hazards of the forest without losing speed. Eirika tried to focus not on the cries of the beast above them, but instead on the sounds of the wind whipping at their side and the heaviness of Seth’s breath in her ear. Familiar sounds. Sounds of safety, not potential death.
When they broke out of the trees and ran across the Renais plains, Eirika found her wish was partially granted.
It was not General Glen who chased after them. It was a man with long teal hair and a crazed smile who swept at them with such power and speed that Seth nearly knocked Eirika off their horse as he jerked the reins to the side to avoid being speared straight through.
The man let his wyvern land once Seth had stopped his horse, staring the man down.
The wyvern rider let out a short laugh. “Well, well, what do we have here? A knight of Renais and a young woman in fancy clothing, riding off toward Frelia like their lives depend on it. You wouldn’t happen to be the princess of Renais, would you girl? We couldn’t find her when we raided the castle, despite reports that she had been there just moments before.”
Seth’s arms tightened around Eirika as his grip on the reins turned white.
“Please dismount, my lady,” Seth whispered into her ear, not taking his eyes off of their foe. “I will try to take him down. If I cannot, then run. There is a cave just to our left. It is too small for a wyvern to fit in. I have traveled through it once, when on a training exercise. There is an exit about a five minute’s walk down its length that you should be able to take to escape him. I know it is not ideal, but I have sent Franz ahead for aid. If you can reach the next village to seek shelter, he should hopefully reach you with reinforcements before our foes find you.”
Eirika huffed, though she did not dare turn around and leave her back open to their enemy. “Run? No. I have already run once. You have a rapier, do you not? Give it to me; I can fight! Please, Seth. You have seen me train with my brother, you have overseen my training yourself. I can help you.”
“Not against this foe,” Seth replied, voice calm. “You must listen to me, princess. If I am to fall here, you must run. I am but a knight. You are the princess of a near-fallen kingdom. For all we know, though I pray it is not so, your brother could have been attacked just as your father was. If he is dead, then Renais goes to you. You must live. You must run.”
The sound of someone clearing their throat interrupted the two. “All right. You’ve talked for long enough. I don’t have all day here,” their foe announced, lifting his lance. The wyvern he rode roared once more, flapping its leathery wings.
“My lady,” Seth pressed, removing Eirika’s hands from the reins she had not realized she’d been gripping with white knuckles too.
Eirika finally turned around to look at him. She saw the desperation in his eyes, the pain in his face.
So, she dismounted and walked several feet away.
She didn’t run. Not yet. Their enemy would most likely chase her right away if she tried to do so. But she gave Seth space, praying their enemy would want to get in a good battle before he tried to hunt her down. The man looked bloodthirsty enough.
“I see you’ve made your choice,” the man announced, his smirk coming back. He aimed his lance at Seth. “I am Valter the Moonstone, Grado’s finest general!” The smirk grew wider, more sinister. “And you’re just a corpse who does not know he is dead.”
The wyvern suddenly launched off the ground, darting straight for Seth.
Seth jerked the reins once more, directing his horse to the right and away from where Eirika stood. He pulled a spear from his back, launching it at Valter’s head. The man was too fast to be hit, however, and his wyvern took to the skies before the weapon could hit, the spear only just grazing the wyvern’s sharp talons in a way that chipped the nail but did not draw blood.
The wyvern then swept back down, Valter’s lance pointed straight forward as he stretched his body dangerously far from his saddle to land a blow on Seth’s side.
Though Seth merely grunted, Eirika cried out when he was hit, worried he had been dealt a fatal blow.
He had not. The lance had cut through his armor, but not torn it terribly.
But Seth, ever the loyal knight, ever the concerned subject, turned to look at Eirika after hearing the sound, momentarily wavering and directing his attention away from the battle.
It was a fatal mistake.
Valter took advantage of Seth’s distraction, swinging the lance back down in the blink of an eye and cutting Seth across the chest, piercing the armor in a terrible sound of screeching metal and cracking plate as he forced the tip of his weapon into Seth’s right elbow, dragging the metal up through his bicep and into his shoulder.
Seth’s body convulsed at the contact, and for a moment Eirika thought he would fall off his horse right then and there. But he did not, still fighting a battle he had already lost, using his left hand to draw the rapier he held at his side as he tried in vain to hurt Valter with it.
He did catch the man across the chin. A light wound, only made because Valter had been so busy laughing in triumph over the wounds he had dealt that he hadn’t pulled away as he should have.
“Oh? You still have some fight left in you!?” Valter screamed, his wyvern swatting away the rapier before Seth could injure its owner again. “How unfortunate you have to perish here. You would’ve made for an interesting opponent if given just a few months to improve. But I said you would be a corpse, so a corpse you shall be. Goodbye!”
He thrust his lance forward once again.
Seth did not have the strength to pull back.
The lance went through his broken chest plate. Through his sternum. Through his heart. Through his spine. Through his cape. Out his back, across the length of his horse.
Seth made a gurgling noise. His eyes drifted toward Eirika one last time. He had not the strength nor breath to speak. But he mouthed one last word. ‘Run.’
The crash of armor and squelch of bloody flesh as Seth hit the ground, lance still pierced through his body, was enough to make Eirika collapse. The world was spinning. Seth was dead. Seth was dead.
His arm was dripping blood, the muscle inside visible and severed. His chestplate was becoming redder by the minute, the ground around him sharing the color as his corpse found itself in the middle of a growing puddle. His eyes rolled back into his head, his legs folded at an awkward angle that suggested at least one had been broken in the fall.
Eirika thought she was going to be sick.
She had fought before. She had picked up a sword, she had heard tales of battle, seen soldiers in the infirmary after a particularly nasty fight.
But she had never seen death so close. She had never been there when the gruesome brutality took place. She knew battle was not a kind thing. That war was not sweet, nor pretty. It wasn’t romantic like so many of the legends she’d read in her childhood had said.
But this? This ?
Ironically, it was Valter’s voice that drew Eirika out of the state of growing panic she had found herself in, hands shaking and chest heaving as the world closed in around her.
“That was far more entertaining than I expected. Loyal to the end...what a dog! But, an impressive one. Had he lived, I would’ve rewarded him for the show. But he has met his end, and so I’ll pass his reward on to you. Run, little girl. Run away. I won’t go looking for you today, and I won’t tell my men I saw you either. Try to outrun death. It gives me more time to savor the hunt… and the kill.”
Eirika looked Valter in the eye. For the first time in her life, she felt pure hatred bubble up in her chest. She had been angry before. She had hated people before. But this? This? He had murdered Seth, and he was treating it all like a game?
Valter hummed lazily. “Yes. Give in to the anger. It just makes the hunt all the more exciting. Now run along, girl. It’s no fun if you just sit there. If you don’t get moving, I’ll have to start the hunt right away.”
Eirika rose to unsteady feet, staring at Valter for a moment longer.
Then she looked away, eyes drifting toward Seth’s corpse. She forced herself to look away a moment later. She couldn’t stomach looking at him any longer. If she did, she would either make herself sick or be consumed by a rage that sent her into a suicidal fury toward the man that had killed him. So she dragged herself forward, past Seth’s corpse, to where the rapier had landed. She picked it up, putting it in the sheath that Seth had handed her in their flight even where he had not actually given her a weapon. Then, she mounted the horse.
She looked at Valter one last time. Said nothing. Turned the horse around it, directing it toward Frelia.
Only a few steps into her travel, she stopped the horse and turned around, staring at Seth’s corpse.
Even if it made her sick, she would remember. She would cement the image into her mind. This was what Grado had done. They had invaded her homeland. They had broken into the castle she had grown up in, killed the guards who had protected it. Killed her father when she could not see.
Murdered Seth, brutally and painfully.
She would remember. She would know what they had done and steel herself for what needed to be done in return.
She dearly hoped this was all a mistake. That the soldiers had acted out of their own will, that Lyon and Emperor Vigarde had not sanctioned such unprovoked violence.
But if they had, if they had ordered this gleeful and terrible brutality to occur, then she would absorb the knowledge and extent of what they had done so she could confront them with the weight of their crimes.
She swallowed hard, eyes still on Seth’s corpse.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, voice cracking as her eyes welled up with tears. “I’m so, so sorry. I will not forget you. I swear. I will make things right. I will see Renais restored.”
Finally she tore her eyes away. And away she rode, leaving Seth’s corpse and the monster who had created it behind.
Determination and adrenaline carried Eirika from castle Renais to Mulan, a castle-town on the edge of Frelia’s border.
On the way she found herself ambushed by three fighters from Grado. Burly men, swinging their axes around and shouting crude phrases at her as they tried to corner her by the mountains she had been traveling through. Trying to scare her into submission before they either killed her or took her back to Grado. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know which one they aimed to do.
She wouldn’t let them get her though. She couldn’t be defeated here. Not before she had gotten to Frelia and found Franz, found someone and explained what had happened to Seth and her father and Castle Renais.
So, she took a deep breath, taking advantage of her horse’s speed to distance herself from the fighters until she found herself by a thicket she could use to her advantage. Though her mount meant that she was the fastest of the four and could theoretically run away, the fighters had blocked off both exits, and she couldn’t pass by them without risking injury to the horse. While she’d ideally fight them from horseback, she wasn’t nearly experienced enough to do so, so she hopped onto the ground and quickly tied the reins to a nearby tree, pulling out her rapier and moving herself into what she hoped was an advantageous position.
Though axe-wielders dealt strong blows, the weight of their weapons meant they were slow. Her rapier was light and her body small, so as long as she timed her movements properly and made sure to use the tall grasses and nearby trees to her advantage, she would be able to dodge their blows well enough that the single vulnerary she carried would be enough to heal her from those wounds she couldn’t avoid taking.
Her strategy worked. Thankfully the narrow passage she’d run into forced the fighters to approach her one by one, allowing her to take them down in single combat. Had they all approached her at once, she knew she wouldn’t have emerged the victor. But they didn’t, blocked by the jagged rocks and tall trees that lined the valley they had cornered her in, and after only a few minutes all three of her opponents had fallen. Eirika had managed to dodge all but one blow, taking a large gulp of vulnerary to heal herself before she remounted her horse to set off for Border Mulan.
As she tried to exit her little hiding place, she paused for a moment. There was only one way out. She had to pass over the bodies of the men she had killed. The corpses of the fighters who had approached her, axes high, smiles cocked to one side, hands vibrating with a thirst for violence.
They weren’t pretty corpses. She’d landed one or two especially powerful hits, driven by a burst of energy that managed to take them down with a single stab as opposed to the three it would have otherwise taken, so one of the men had only a single stab wound through the neck. Nothing particularly significant. Her rapier was rather thin, after all, and did not leave very large wounds. But for the two who had taken multiple blows, they were much more messy. Shirts now rags, long slices across the arms where Eirika’s stabs had not been quite on target.
It wasn’t pretty. But it wasn’t Seth either. She didn’t know these men. They had tried to harm her. The wounds they had been dealt were small, even if still fatal.
So she let them drift from her mind, directing the horse to step over their corpses as she continued on her way to Mulan, knowing that these men were only the first of many who would likely fall as she tried to sort out why Grado was doing what it was doing and what steps she would have to take to bring peace back to her homeland.
Of course, she couldn’t ignore the truth forever. Much as Eirika wished to steel herself, to be like Seth or Ephraim or one of the knights who went to battle and came back to laugh about all the near-death experiences they had as if they were silly stunts, she could only pretend for so long. She wasn’t weak. She wasn’t a child. But she was young, and so much had happened, and when she finally rescued Tana with the help of Franz and the Frelian armored knight he had brought with him, she burst into tears.
“What’s wrong?” Tana asked, holding her in a tight hug after Eirika’s legs had crumbled beneath her. Whether because of the weight of the situation, the pain of riding for so long after having not ridden in ages, or some combination of the two Eirika wasn’t sure.
“I’m so sorry, I-” Eirika hiccuped, pulling away from Tana as she tried to put weight back into her legs to stand on her own. “It is...oh, I’m being so childish. It should be nothing. Here I am, alive, and yet-”
“And yet you have been through much!” Tana shot back, not allowing Eirika to berate herself any further. “You say you’re being childish, but you’ve always been the more mature of us, Eirika. I can’t imagine what it must have been like fleeing Castle Renais on your own. When I heard that it had fallen, I was so worried for your safety. But, oh! Where is your brother? How does Ephraim fair?”
Eirika blinked away tears, taking a deep breath. “I do not know. He was away when the news hit. And-” another hiccup. Eirika cursed her weakness. “I did not flee on my own.”
Tana frowned, looking to Franz. “Did this knight go with you, then? I recognize Sir Gilliam, but not the other.”
Franz shook his head. “No, I was sent ahead to ask for Frelian aid by General Seth once we received word that Grado soldiers were attempting to breach the castle. He said he would protect Lady Eirika…”
“...” Eirika looked down. When she had first encountered Franz, he was being attacked by two soldiers at once and nearly overwhelmed. Eirika had jumped right in to help him, so they hadn’t much time to speak. Seth’s name had not yet come up.
But she couldn’t avoid what had happened. He deserved to know. Seth deserved to have his loyalty and his ultimate sacrifice known.
“Seth lost his life protecting me,” Eirika said, voice barely a whisper. “The horses in the stable had been slaughtered, so we had to take a detour to the forest where we found the one you had prepared for us. By the time we began our flight one of Grado’s wyvern generals had spotted us, and he wasn’t going to let us go without a fight. He allowed me to step away when he began his match with Seth, but it was over so quickly. I distracted Seth, and he paid for that distraction with his life. The way the general, the way that Valter cut him across his chest, across his arm, through-” her voice hitched. Not a hiccup, but a pause. Eirika took another deep breath to calm herself. It didn’t work very well. “Seth fell from his horse. Valter spent the whole time laughing, treating it like a game, and said he was so entertained by the fight that he would let me run just to make the game all the more exciting for him.
“Seth sacrificed himself to protect me. Were it not for his bravery, for his loyalty, I would not be here. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, dear…” Tana embraced Eirika once again, holding onto her tight.
Though Eirika could not see him, she heard a choked sob from Franz, alongside whispers of ‘no,’ and ‘it can’t be.’
“Don’t worry, Eirika. We will get to the bottom of this. We will find out why Grado is doing this, and make this Valter pay if I have anything to say about it. You don’t need to apologize. It wasn’t your fault. What matters is that you live. We will make things right,” Tana promised.
“Thank you,” Eirika whispered back.
And so the four headed for Castle Frelia. Four where there should have been five.
King Hayden, though sympathetic to Eirika’s plight and cause, could not spare the troops she wished to gain. Grado had attacked Renais seemingly out of the blue; there was no telling whether they would be at Castle Frelia’s door within the week. He needed to protect his own country, and so he could only part with a few soldiers until the situation stabilized and he could send in reinforcements. Eirika thanked him for the help he could give, though she pushed aside his offers to house her in the castle for the duration of the war.
She had a people to fight for. A country to reclaim. A brother to find. A friend to avenge.
She could not stand still.
Thus when she set out for Grado three days after reaching Castle Frelia, it was with a small party of strangers. Franz she knew, to an extent, but it was more ‘knowing’ in the way of having seen him around the castle a few times and heard stories from Seth. She and Franz had spoken a handful of times, but never as anything more than a greeting between a knight and princess. She had a general grasp of his character, but that was all. Gilliam she had fought with only once, and Vanessa and Moulder she had not met until she stood at the castle gates that morning.
Her mind drifted to Seth once again. What would they be doing, were he to have joined them? Seth would know what to do. As it was, Eirika’s plan only consisted of ‘going to Grado’ and ‘hopefully finding Ephraim along the way.’ She was running on a wish. A feeling that she had to do something, praying things would work themselves out along the way.
Frankly, she was surprised King Hayden had let her go with such a small force and lack of direction. Perhaps her voice had carried enough force and determination he’d found himself unable to combat her claims. But perhaps he still should have. Was she going on a suicide mission, moving as she was? Five soldiers, up against the empire who had so quickly and absolutely crushed the best knights of her homeland?
Thinking about it that way, maybe Seth’s presence wouldn’t have made that big a difference. What was one soldier when against an entire army?
...Moral support. Experience. Friendship. Small, but valuable things.
Things that she had lost due to her inexperience, due to the distraction she had caused. As her eyes drifted to her four companions, silent as they traveled on, she swore not to let the same happen to them. So long as she lived, they would not fall. Five soldiers could not beat an entire army by themselves. But they could pick off small groups. They could sneak around, pretending to be mercenaries or simply armed peasants who wished to protect themselves. Something unassuming. Something worthwhile.
Right before they reach the village of Ide, the first of many stops on a trip with a semi-certain destination and an unsure journey, Eirika paused her march at the sound of wings, heart pounding.
Was it him? Had Valter come to kill her? Come to finish his hunt?
She turned around in a flurry of movement, crouching as she withdrew her rapier and looked to the sky. At her sides, Gilliam, Franz, and Vanessa pulled out their own weapons, Moulder trying to find cover.
But there was no need. For it was not Valter and his wyvern who approached them, but Tana, on the wings of a beautiful pegasus.
“Eirika!” she shouted, landing a few feet away. “I worried I might never find you.”
Eirika blinked a few times, giving her heart a moment to slow back to a normal pace. “Tana? What are you doing here? Your father forbade you from coming.”
Tana huffed, jumping off her pegasus to take Eirika by the hand. “So? I couldn’t leave you to make this journey without a single familiar face. Not when it is so dangerous, not when you have already been through so much. I won’t allow myself to be locked away in the castle while my brother fights and my father works so hard to keep our homeland from falling to the dastards who took yours. I have to do something too. And I could think of no better place than by your side.”
Eirika tried to argue with her for a few minutes. Innes was in a dangerous place, and if he died Tana would be heir to the throne. She needed to stay in Castle Frelia where it was safe to make sure the royal line lived on. Frelian troops had only acted out of defense so far, but if their princess was seen with a small force making the first move that could be seen as a sign of provocation that only intensified the war. Eirika was not confident she would get very far at all, and worried this trip might be her last. She did not want Tana to be caught up in such a fight.
The last point only convinced Tana she needed to stay even more.
And so Tana joined them as they reached Ide, finding it under attack by bandits who had taken advantage of the chaos sewn by war and lack of knights to maintain order so that they could destroy the village.
Eirika visited one of the pockets of houses during the attack, a subset of the village that apparently extended to the other side of the mountain just east of it.
In it she found a tall woman with blonde hair and magnificent armor talking to one of the townspeople, face morphed into an expression somewhere between guilt and pain.
A village elder clung to the blonde woman's arm. “Please, can’t you and your companion help us? You’re knights, aren’t you? Even if he’s a little sick I’ve seen those lances and the horses you came in on. You still wear armor, light as it is. Even if this isn’t normally the place you protect, you have to help us! We can’t defend ourselves from these bandits. If no one helps us, they’ll slaughter us. Please!”
The blonde knight took a deep breath, eyes closed. She opened them slowly as she began to speak “Perhaps we could-”
Her eyes landed on Eirika and she stopped. It took a moment before she continued, addressing Eirika directly. “Who are you, and why are you here? You’re no peasant, not with that sword nor with that armor. Nor are you one of the bandits.”
Eirika froze. “I am… Erina. I’m a member of a band of mercenaries that was passing through when we saw bandits coming down from the mountains. I came here to warn the townspeople to close the gates before bandits made their way in.”
The woman looked Eirika up and down, eyes revealing nothing of her thoughts. But she was certainly thinking something, and a deep worry formed in the pit of Eirika’s stomach. The woman was right. Eirika’s armor was not that of a bandit, nor of a regular peasant. Should she change into something less distinct? Was her outfit about to spell her doom, exposing her to a knight who for all Eirika knew might ride straight to Grado to report her existence?
The woman did not comment on Eirika’s appearance or identity further. Instead she handed Eirika a beautiful red gem, something that had to be worth a great sum.
“I have orders to return to the capital as soon as possible and cannot stay to help, much as I wish to do so. I ask that you and your friends do so in my stead. You’re armed, and you claim to be a mercenary. Will you help them?”
“Good.” The woman smiled. “I leave this to you. May we meet again under better circumstances.”
Eirika nodded and the woman left. The townsperson she’d been talking to thanked Eirika for her help and then ran off to inform the rest of the village of the attack.
Satisfied she had done at least some good, Eirika departed for the battlefield. She could not save Seth, but she had to be able to save at least a few of the villagers. She had to. So she ran to find her first foe, rapier in hand.
The battle was a success for the most part.
They could not save every villager. One of the village pockets was burned to the ground.
But they saved the majority of the people of Ide, and they lost none of their own. They even gained two new companions, Ross and Garcia, who apparently had served in the Renais army many years ago before retiring to live with his family. It was nice to have more companions, Eirika thought, especially two so close to each other.
It was a little bittersweet, too. Her own father was dead. She could not have what Ross and Garcia had ever again. She had a brother, but his survival was unknown at the moment. He could be alive and fighting, alive and captured, alive and running, dead. So many options. The truth of it beyond her reach. But she hoped dearly that he still lived, and that they might be reunited once more. Though she loved Tana and deeply appreciated her presence, Tana had only been an occasional presence in her life. Ephraim would understand the conflict Eirika felt at Lyon’s possible involvement so much better. Her pain over their father’s death. The grief and guilt she felt at Seth’s death.
Except, he wasn’t dead.
He wasn’t dead, because as they moved to leave Ide he came up right before her.
Seth. In the flesh. It was him. He was alive.
She could hear the gasps of confusion from Tana and Franz, the only ones of her companions that had met Seth before and would realize the wrongness of him standing before her. Though Gilliam, Moulder, and Vanessa had heard of Seth’s passing, they wouldn’t recognize him. They wouldn’t know why Eirika had frozen in shock. Frozen in...fear? Relief? What was it? What was it that had her heart beating so fast?
“Seth…?” she breathed, taking a step toward the man. He had a horse by his side. Its armor was not of a design Eirika recognized.
“My lady,” Seth responded, bowing.
He didn’t look good. His skin was pale, circles under his eyes. It was faint, but she thought she could see him trembling ever-so-slightly. But he was there, standing and talking to her, and he wore a rare smile. It was hard to bear.
“I apologize for being unable to join you for the final trip to Frelia. My recovery took longer than expected,” he continued.
Eirika swallowed hard. “Your recovery? I thought… I thought you were-”
She couldn’t say it. Images of his corpse, pierced by Valter’s lance ran through her mind. Seth, falling off his horse. Seth, pain in his face at the first blow. Seth, hitting the ground. Seth, rapier knocked away by the wyvern. Seth, mouthing for her to run. Seth, muscle in his arm exposed. Seth, body hitting the ground. Seth, surrounded by a pool of blood.
He had...he had survived? But how? He’d been pierced through the chest. Through the heart, she had thought. How could he have possibly survived that?
He wore new armor which covered his chest and arms, preventing Eirika from checking the two for damage. But, unlike before, he wore no gloves. If his body trembled slightly, his hand had a definite twitch, fingers spasming irregularly.
“Again, I apologize for frightening you my lady. Had I the strength to follow you with my injuries at the time, I would have. But they were severe, and I was forced to rest for several days before I had the strength to appear before you as I am now.”
Eirika took a few steps forward, though she could not bring herself to stand close enough to touch Seth, something feeling off. After what she had seen, what she had felt , it felt unreal to see him before her now. Had she imagined the extent of his injuries? Had she seen them, panicked, and convinced herself they were far worse than they actually were out of some sort of sick wish for validation for her new goals?
“No, do not apologize Seth. I am glad you stand before me now, delayed or otherwise. I could not be more thankful for your survival.”
Another bow from Seth. His smile, slightly deformed in the first place, faded away. “My lady, do you still carry the bracelet your father gave you?”
“Yes.” She held it out to him. Seth closed the gap between them, holding it between unsteady fingers.
“If it is not too much to ask, could you please give it to me?”
Eirika frowned, pulling her hand away slightly. Seth did not loosen his grip, simply extending his reach.
“Why? It’s a simple present.”
Seth shook his head. “Would that it were. But it’s so much more than that. You are aware of the Sacred Twins of Renais, correct?”
“They are guarded by a powerful seal that cannot be broken by any ram or counter-magic. Only the seal’s key can open the room the treasures are in. A key contained within your bracelet. Sieglinde of the Sacred Twins would be a great boon on your journey, and I would be honored to retrieve it for you with the help of the bracelet you wear,” Seth explained.
“Can you not fight with us?” Eirika asked, running her fingers over her bracelet.
“I’m afraid not,” Seth replied. “Though I have recovered enough to come here, I am afraid my wounds have not fully healed. Nor do I expect them to ever…” His voice grew quiet with his last sentence. He raised it again. “I would be of no use to you in battle. But just as Franz was able to get to Frelia undetected, I believe I would best be able to enter Castle Renais as a lone rider. To do you some service, even if I am unable to fight for you at the present moment. Please allow me to do you this honor, my lady.”
He bowed yet again, and Eirika felt the doubt in her heart crumble.
Seth was nothing but sincere. He might not have died as she’d so terribly feared, but he had still taken on a grievous wound for her sake. Something that might have permanently stolen his ability to fight. Thus she felt obligated to help him some way, even if it was only to help herself. Was that selfish? She wasn’t sure. But Seth seemed near-desperate, and she couldn’t stand to see him suffer. Especially not when he still appeared to be suffering from his wounds, pale and faintly trembling.
Eirika removed the bracelet from her wrist, presenting it to Seth. “You may have it. Please be careful on your journey, Seth. I have already lost you once, even if it was not forever. I do not wish for you to sacrifice yourself for me yet again. I place my trust in you with this bracelet, and pray that you return to me swiftly and safely.”
Seth froze for a moment. Guilt crossed his face. But it disappeared a moment later. “Of course, my lady. Until we next meet.”
“Until we next meet,” Eirika repeated.
With that, Seth put the bracelet in a pocket in his cloak and mounted his horse. Far off toward the horizon, when Seth had traveled such a distance Eirika should have long since looked away to continue on as she was, she spotted a second rider. Someone with medium length light hair and a tall but slender build.
Was it the woman from earlier? The woman from the village?
Now that Eirika thought about it, the townsperson had mentioned that the woman was traveling with another paladin. One that looked ill.
Why was Seth traveling with such a woman? How had they met? Was she the one who had rescued him? Why did the thought upset Eirika so?
She pushed it away. Now was not the time to be consumed by doubt. She had to set out for the next town before the sun got too low in the sky and the night guided their travels. She had places to be. Goals to achieve.
Goals that, with Seth alive, seemed muddled. What did all her former resolve mean if such a large part of that resolve had been based on a lie?
Eirika and her small band did manage to make it to Grado relatively uninjured, excluding wounds easily slept off or healed by staff. It was a hard journey, but they made it safely, and that was all that Eirika could ask for.
They passed through the ancient forest Za’ha on their way, where they met a pair of mages who decided to join their band. One, Artur, was a healer, which Eirika was extremely grateful for. Moulder had his hands full taking care of the group, and any additional staves were greatly appreciated. Especially since the one other person with a staff that they’d thought might join them had perished in the battle in which they’d met.
The woman, a Grado cleric that they’d met in Serafew, had come up to them before the battle warning of turmoil within Grado. But she’d never been able to reveal just what that turmoil was, ripped across the stomach by an axe when their enemy was nearly gone. Moulder and Artur did their best to preserve the woman, Natasha’s, life, but their efforts were in vain. She died with eyes full of tears and gasping breaths as she attempted to choke out something about the Emperor and a stone.
The one good thing about that battle was that one of the enemy soldiers, Joshua, decided to join their cause. Natasha’s death was likely what convinced him to join them. He’d seemed ready to join Natasha’s side anyway, turning on the men he’d been with when Natasha asked, but Eirika wasn’t sure whether or not he’d stay with them when the battle ended. After Natasha’s death, that question was answered. Joshua didn’t speak much after that. He kept to himself, muttering about chance and losses and luck that might never turn. But he did travel with them, and his sword was priceless in the battles to come.
Battles that continued to grow more difficult, the group plagued by a slight disorganization that never seemed to go away. There was no strategist in the group. Garcia tried to take the lead, having been an accomplished soldier in the Renais army for much longer than any of the rest of the group had been fighting. Lute tried to help him some, too. But Garcia’s tactics did not work against the Monsters that now roamed the land, and he admitted that while he’d fought in many a battle he’d largely relied on a select few of his allies to form their plans of attack. And while Lute’s strategies worked in theory, they only worked so. She knew her own abilities and limits, but she did not know the others’. She acted as if they would always hit in certain situations, always dodge in others, always take the same damage from certain attacks, always be approached from a certain side. Real battle was not fought in certainties, however. It was not nearly as neat as she imagined it to be, and eventually Vanessa paid for it in the form of the bottom half of her left leg.
By some miracle she did not die of blood loss or infection. Lute was nearby when the Bael attacked, as was Artur, who begged her to cast a fire spell to cauterize the wound after she took the Monster down. Lute had frozen for a time, staring at the bloody stump until Artur managed to shake her out of the daze. When she did cast, the spell was much too strong. It cauterized the wound, but it also gave Vanessa burns across her stomach and thigh. She let out a piercing scream at the contact, and Gilliam had to hold her down while Artur did his best to heal both the wound itself and the new burns, begging Vanessa to take deep breaths and drink from a water flask so she did not simply die of shock.
Vanessa avoided Lute after that. She’d gained her first wound protecting the girl from an attack from behind. She’d gained the rest from Lute herself. But she lived, even if in some sort of pain, and continued to fight from atop her pegasus.
Though Vanessa did not comment on it, it was clear she was having difficulties maintaining her balance on her pegasus for their first few battles. She was down a leg. Her grip was different, her weight uneven. But she did not complain.
Eirika still blamed herself for Vanessa’s pain. It was Eirika who had led them toward Grado. It was others who were paying for it.
The one benefit of that battle was that Eirika learned her brother was being held in Renvall. Finally, a specific place to head to, rather than just the general ‘Grado.’
Of course, things were never easy.
Outside Renvall, they found a large group of soldiers blocking their path. They won, but just barely. Then, inside the castle, they not only found more soldiers, but found them because of a betrayal.
Orson had supposedly escaped, so they had followed him to find Ephraim. But that had been a lie, and he ran off before Eirika could properly confront him for it.
Had Ephraim and the two cavaliers accompanying him not managed to escape during the battle and come to Eirika’s aid, she was sure she would have lost at least one of her companions. It was certain. They were exhausted, their weapons close to breaking, and their vulneraries running low. They couldn’t have lasted another twenty minutes or another fifteen men.
When Eirika finally saw Ephraim’s face for the first time in what felt like an eternity, she found herself crying tears of joy. Finally, someone familiar. He was safe. She had been orphaned, but not stripped of all family.
After Ephraim let Eirika out of their tight embrace, she noticed something alarming.
“You don’t have your bracelet,” she commented.
Ephraim lifted his wrist, looking at it. “No, I don’t.”
Eirika furrowed her brow. “What happened to it?” If it was anything like her own bracelet, if it too was a key to the Sacred Twins…
“Orson took it,” Ephraim explained. “I gave it to him just before we were imprisoned. He claimed to have heard from Seth, who had asked for it saying it was some special key for one of Renais’ treasures. I did not question him heavily on it. Though knowing what I do now I really should have, that traitor!”
He’d heard from Seth?
Eirika ran through the timeline since the fall of Renais in her head.
Seth had been injured in the escape. He’d just barely recovered in time to talk to Eirika and get her bracelet in Ide, where he had likely been accompanied by the blonde paladin. Eirika and her group had immediately traveled for Grado, on what ended up being an almost entirely direct path to Renvall even before they had chosen that particular location as their final destination. She didn’t think Seth could have told Orson about the bracelets when Grado had invaded, seeing as he and Ephraim had already left the castle before the breach and Orson had only just asked for Ephraim’s bracelet. But how could he have reached Orson before they did? He was mounted, yes, but he was also ill. He couldn’t have traveled that far in poor health and while still recovering from such a severe wound. Had he sent a messenger? That didn’t make sense. He wouldn’t have trusted a random knight with such an important and potentially damning message.
Something was wrong. Something was wrong, but Eirika wasn’t sure exactly what it was. The pieces were there, but she was having trouble putting them all together to create the full image of what was going on.
She prayed that whatever was going on was not the sign of greater troubles to come.
Seth had always been loyal to a fault. Devoted, kind. He wouldn’t betray them, would they?
No. Never. He couldn’t. He couldn’t.
He couldn’t...could he?
Things only got worse from there.
They received word that Innes was about to be ambushed at Carcino, and rushed to save him. But they didn’t make it in time, and not only did Innes perish, but the mercenaries he had hired refused to join them in the war. Apparently one of their members had fought for the opposite side, and Eirika’s forces had killed her during the battle. With their employer dead and one of their friends downed by those who wished to hire them, they withdrew without so much as staying for negotiation.
While traveling through the peaks of Caer Pelyn, Franz was ambushed by a gargoyle who leapt out from the fog. Forde was never the same after his brother's death, taking to drinking the night away at every village they stopped in. Kyle did his best to convince the man not to, but his attempts were never met with much success.
A strange but positive woman named L’Arachel and her guard Dozla joined them along the way, as did a wyvern knight named Cormag who, like Eirika, sought revenge against Valter. Though in Cormag’s case, his brother was dead for certain. Seth was just…
Eirika didn’t like to think about Seth anymore. She had heard nothing from him lately. Had he perished on his way to Renais? While there? On the way back? Had he betrayed them? Was he trying to find them, but unable to given the strange path they had taken?
She didn’t know where he was, so she tried not to dwell on it too much.
Until in Jehanna she saw him again.
It was after they’d cleared Jehanna Hall of its invaders, coming to the throne room only to find the queen was not there. Eirika alone had remained in the room for a minute after L’Arachel and strangely Joshua had searched the room high and low for signs of the queen’s presence or direction of disappearance, staring at the empty throne and preparing herself for what she suspected was a royal corpse somewhere nearby. She had not kept her promise. She had not saved their companions, the rogue L’Arachel used to fight with perishing the same battle he joined them, and she had not managed to save the queen of what could have been an extremely beneficial ally nation. How had things gone so wrong?
It was when she finally turned away from the throne that the dissonant sound of a warp spell being cast drifted toward her, Eirika spinning back around to find the source.
There, in front of her, were two people she feared she might never see again.
In front, Lyon. He looked ill, but not in the way he so often did in their youth. He looked as though he was struggling to breathe, fighting against some invisible foe that wanted to pull him away from her. He was pale but not thin or wearing sunken skin. He took heavy breaths but not choked ones. He wore a grimace, that look of desperation she had seen on Seth what felt like a lifetime ago.
And Seth. Standing behind Lyon, somehow appearing even worse than he had last Eirika had seen him. His skin, pale when she had last seen him, had taken on a somewhat ashen tone. The bags under his eyes had deepened, the skin on his face clinging tighter to his high cheekbones than it already did, the tremble in his body had increased, the spasm in his right hand so bad she wondered whether he could still hold a lance. His breaths were raspy, his chest heaving as he struggled to get in air. And his eyes, trained on Eirika, seemed empty. They saw her. There was something behind them. But they did not carry the life she was so used to seeing. Whatever pain Seth was in was consuming him. Perhaps that was why he had not returned; he had not wanted Eirika to see him suffer.
But that was a poor excuse. She loved Lyon and she loved Seth. They were such important parts of her life, and to disappear so suddenly and for so long… She did not care what they looked like. She was glad to see them, even if fear shot through her heart at whatever was causing the two to be in such pain, such anguish, such ill-health.
“Eirika,” Lyon breathed, voice rattling. He seemed surprised to see her. Had he thought she’d left with the others?
He took a step back, turning to Seth for a moment.
“Wait!” Eirika shouted, launching forward to grab Lyon by the arm before he could take Seth and teleport away. “Wait, Lyon, please. Tell me why you are doing this.” Tell her why he had Seth with him. Why both looked as if they could collapse any minute.
Lyon looked away, eyes on the floor as his face contorted in pain. “I...I cannot tell you. I am deeply sorry, Eirika, but it’s too much to explain.”
Eirika shook her head. “No it’s not, Lyon. I’ll listen no matter how hard it is or how long your story takes to tell. I know you have a kind soul. I know you would not let such a terrible war come to pass without good reason, or if you were able to stop it. Is it your father who is forcing you to come here? Is he the one who sent Grado troops into Renais? He’s lost his mind, hasn’t he? He’s gone mad and taken it out on those around him, you included, right?”
Lyon swallowed hard, gaze landing on Eirika once again. He refused to look her in the eye, though, concentrating instead on her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Eirika. I’ve longed to see you and Ephraim again for ages, to spend the days together in peace and laughter as we did when we were young. But that time has passed. Things cannot return to how they were, so I came here to apologize instead. I could not stop the invasion of Renais, nor the invasions of any of the neighboring nations. One day I hope to be able to explain why this all has happened to you, but that day has not yet come. I’m sorry.”
“Here,” he said, looking over his shoulder to Seth. “It’s time.”
Seth frowned. The right side of his face didn’t go down quite as much as the left did. It was a little disquieting. “Are you sure? If I do, you will be-”
Lyon shook his head. “Don’t worry about me. I will survive. No matter what he does to me, I will make it through. You’ve been longing to do this, I know. Consider it my apology for letting things get this far.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
Seth reached behind his back, taking out a long bundle of cloth tied together with a piece of rope. He untied the knot keeping it together and let the cloth fall to the floor.
Inside the bundle were two gleaming weapons, the likes of which Eirika had never seen. They were filled with some sort of innate power. Eirika could almost swear one of them was calling to her.
“The Flame Lance, Siegmund,” he began, handing her the first of the two. “I expect your brother will wield this well.” Then, he kneeled in front of her, holding the remaining weapon with both hands and bowing as he presented it to her. The weapon rattled against the gauntlets he now wore, shaking so hard that were she not standing there too Eirika might wonder whether there was an earthquake. “And the Thunder Blade, Sieglinde. This one I know is meant for you, my lady.”
Eirika stepped forward, taking the sword from Seth and holding the blade up, hilt in front of her eyes. Immediately she was filled with a power, a warmth.
Lyon gagged a second later, falling to his knees. Seth rushed to his side in an instant, eyes eerily blank as he caught Lyon's torso before he could hit the ground.
“Lyon!” Eirika shouted, letting her hand fall though not loosing her grip on Sieglinde. When she crouched by him, Lyon scooted away, unsteadily getting to his feet and taking a few steps back. Seth rose a moment later, staying just a foot away.
“I’m fine, Eirika. Don’t worry about me. Just a bout of nausea; nothing I haven’t felt before in my illness. My weak constitution seems to never want to leave me alone," Lyon explained.
Eirika didn't believe him. He didn't normally collapse like that. Not in pain. Occasionally he had fainted, but only on hot days, or out of heavy exertion. And even then it was a fairly silent affair, him falling over as he lost consciousness. He was awake for this. He was in pain for this. This was not normal.
He sighed, letting his bangs fall over his eyes. “I appreciate the concern, Eirika. You’re the same as ever...beautiful, kind…" He chuckled. "No. Not the same. Even more so. Don’t let this war take that away from you. It’s because of me that this war began, but please know I will always be your friend, no matter what may come to pass.”
He teleported away before Eirika could find what to say, Seth disappearing with him.
Once again, someone taken from her. Even if he hadn’t died, he was gone all the same. She couldn’t stop him. Nor could she believe what he said about starting the war. Lyon would never do that; he had to be manipulated by his father, or by the generals, or someone else. Maybe that was why Seth was with him; perhaps Lyon had been in Renais when Seth had snuck back to retrieve the relics, and Seth had stayed with Lyon to make sure he was okay, knowing how precious he was to Eirika and Ephraim. Or maybe Emperor Vigarde or one of the generals had threatened to kill Seth, so Lyon had taken him on as a personal guard to save his life.
Or, maybe Eirika was grasping at straws and conjuring stories out of thin air to deny the truth that was right in front of her. Her friend was complicit in the destruction of her homeland and the death of her father. Her closest guard and instructor had left her for that guilty friend.
It hurt to think, but it was most likely the truth. The world was not kind as Eirika wished it to be. Though she would try her hardest to make it a kind place, a place where friends did not turn on one another and promises were kept, a place where battles did not pepper the landscape leaving death and permanent injury in their wake, she knew that that was not the world she lived in at the moment. Simply wishing for it to be would not make it so. So, she steeled herself once again, walking out of the throne room and heading for a side room that Joshua had mentioned he thought the queen might be in.
By the time she arrived the queen had already passed. Her body lay in Joshua’s arms, hair draped across his body and mingling with his own, both a lovely shade of ruby. Much better than the muddy red of the blood that stained her gown.
“Jehanna’s Sacred Stone is lost,” Joshua said, voice devoid of emotion.
“Pardon?” Eirika asked.
“Grado has taken to destroying the Sacred Stones. It is why they invaded Renais, and then the rest of the continent,” L’Arachel explained, uncharacteristically somber. “It is most likely that they have already destroyed the stone your homeland kept, and doubtless they have destroyed their own. Only the stone of Rausten remains.”
“What of the Stone of Frelia? I haven’t heard of its destruction. Has it just happened?” Eirika looked to Tana, who was standing across the room.
Tana bit her lip, guilt evident. “No. It happened quite some time ago.”
What? “Why not tell me?!” Eirika shouted, balling her fists.
“Because I couldn’t!” Tana shouted back, tears in her eyes. “With everything that had happened, with how caught up in despair you were, I couldn’t bear to place any more weight upon your shoulders. You try so hard, Eirika, and you feel so much. I feared you might crumble were you to receive any more bad news.”
Tana was right. Eirika knew she was. And yet, she couldn’t fight the sting of Tana’s admission. She didn’t lie to Eirika. But she had withheld crucial information. After all, little was more precious than the Sacred Stones.
“Why would Grado do this?” she muttered.
“To bring about the revival of the Demon King,” L’Arachel explained. “He was sealed away 800 years ago by the Five Heroes who used the power of the Sacred Stones to trap his soul and banish him from the world. Now that the Stones have been destroyed, he is returning to the land. That is why Monsters roam Magvel, why darkness and despair have taken hold of so many hearts.”
“...They’ll pay,” Joshua whispered, gently putting Queen Ismaire’s corpse on the ground before rising. “I made a promise. I will restore Jehanna, and to do that Grado needs to be defeated. This can’t be allowed to go on.”
“Agreed,” Eirika responded.
The Demon King…
Outside, the screeches of wyverns filled the air.
“Again!?” Joshua shouted, running for one of the windows in the room. “Damn, we’ve been surrounded! Eirika, tell everyone to get outside. Grado has sent reinforcements, and Jehanna Hall has already been breached. Our best chance of victory is outside.”
“I understand. Tana, will you help me?”
And so the two got together the remnants of their little band, smaller than it should have been, and went to fight again.
The battle was hard, the majority of Eirika’s forces slowed by sand that some members of their group had never seen in their lives. While Tana, Cormag, and Vanessa were able to fight as they normally did, the rest of the members of their army were practically sitting ducks as seemingly endless reinforcements of pegasus knights came from the north to take them down. Bones and too-high sand dunes occasionally blocked their path, narrowing options when it came to dodging or even moving in general. But they made it through with all limbs and lives intact, and that was what was most important.
Well. Second most important, though Eirika would not admit that ranking to anyone else.
Ephraim came with reinforcements from the southwest midway through the battle. While a welcome sight, it was still not first.
What was first was that Valter had finally appeared before her. And Eirika held a wyrmslayer.
It felt like fate. Eirika had found the wyrmslayer in the sand as she approached Valter, his long teal hair whipping around in the heavy desert wind as his wyvern stirred up the sand around him with its huge, leathery wings. What a perfect weapon.
Cormag stopped her right before she got within earshot.
“That bastard murdered my brother,” he growled, gripping his dragonlance with white knuckles.
“He killed someone precious to me too,” Eirika responded, walking past Cormag’s wyvern. He dismounted to follow her on foot.
“Who? Tana told me he hurt your knight friend, but from what I’ve heard he’s still alive.”
“Renais. My father. He led the attack.” And as for her ‘knight friend’... she was beginning to believe Seth hadn’t really survived that attack after all. His heart might still beat, his body still capable of speech, but the man who had appeared before her only a short time ago was only an echo of the Seth who had protected her for so long, the Seth she had grown to love...
“Let me get a hit in, then. First blood. You can take the kill. Just let me make him know what he’s done and what he has coming for him.”
Cormag then mounted his wyvern and took off, Eirika marching through the sand behind him.
She could hear them talk when the two men met, but the severity of the wind kept her from making out the details of what they were saying. She could hear Cormag’s seething rage, see Valter’s indifference to his pain and amusement at his attempts. Smell the iron of blood in the air when Cormag’s lance pierced holes through Valter’s wyvern’s wing, sending the creature to the ground. Feel the roughness of the few strands of hair that floated their way toward Eirika after one of Cormag’s swipes to the head left Valter with half his head near-shorn.
For whatever reason, the half-cut hair seemed to be what set Valter off the most, his laughs turning to screams. But Cormag had done his bit, had enough of his fill to let Eirika finish the job. He directed his wyvern to the sky and flew out of Valter’s range. The injury Valter’s wyvern had taken prevented it from flying, the holes in its wings meaning it could not catch the wind well enough to rise. It was a beast on the ground. A fish out of water. It could flail, but it would not last much longer.
When Eirika had finally reached a stretch of plain only a dozen or so feet away from Valter, she shouted toward him. “Valter the Moonstone! You have said you wished to hunt me down, that you would be the one to kill me.” Valter turned from where he’d been screaming at Cormag, crazed eyes landing on Eirika’s wyrmslayer. She would not use Sieglinde. Not yet. “You invaded my home, and nearly killed someone dear to me. I will make you pay for what you have done!”
Valter cocked his head to the side. “Nearly killed someone dear to you? Who are you talking about? I don’t remember that. Though, perhaps it was because they were such an easy kill their life drifted from my mind as soon as it was snuffed out.”
Eirika’s eyes narrowed. “The red-haired knight who helped me escape from Castle Renais as you and your men slaughtered the knights and innocents who lived there. The one whose heart you nearly pierced, whose body you laughed over as he struggled to breathe after falling off his horse.”
Valter blinked at her for a few moments, confusion on his face. Finally, he frowned. “What in the world are you talking about? Nearly killed? I put my lance through your friend’s chest. Pierced his heart with my steel. Cut his arm to the bone. He would’ve died from the bloodloss whether or not I managed to hit my target when going for his chest. I didn’t nearly kill him. I wouldn’t have done such a sloppy job. I murdered him. Killed him until his lungs no longer breathed, until his heart no longer pumped blood. It was a short fight, but he had skill. It was not one I would forget.”
“What…?” Eirika breathed, not sure how to react. What Valter said matched what she had remembered. What she had grieved over, what she had later convinced herself was wrong. “But how? I saw him in Ide. I saw him just a few minutes ago, with Lyon! He couldn’t have died!”
“Ide…” Valter lowered his lance, taking a moment to think. Then, a look of realization crossed his face. “Seth. Your friend is named Seth, isn’t he?” It was more a statement than a question, his inflection even.
Valter put a hand to his chin, leaning forward on his heaving wyvern. “Then I’m right. Your friend is long dead, little girl. That thing you saw in Ide? The thing you saw with Lyon? That’s just a moving corpse. A freak of nature, brought back by the power Grado is working so hard to unleash. I hadn’t ever seen Lyon’s new toy since he’s been assigned to that annoying Selena for the most part, but I’ve heard about him a few times. To think he was the prey I’d defeated back in Renais!”
Eirika thought she was going to be sick. A corpse? A freak of nature? A toy?
Valter let a lazy smile come back to his face. “Oh don’t tell me you didn’t notice anything was wrong. I haven’t seen him myself, but I’ve seen Emperor Vigarde enough times to know what his kind looks like. Pale skin, sunken eyes, shaking that never fully abates… Tell me, how many of these characteristics did he have? One? Two? All? More?”
“Quiet,” Eirika snapped, raising her wyrmslayer. Valter moved into a defensive position in return.
“Don’t try to deny it. You can see he’s not okay anymore.”
“Quiet!” she snapped once more, taking a few steps forward. “Whatever the truth is, it’s you that made him this way. You are the one that killed him. Hurt him. Maimed him, or whatever you did! It’s because of you that Seth is like this and my homeland is in ruins. And so you will pay!”
She charged forward.
“Yes!” Valter screamed, forcing his wyvern to leap to the side even with its injuries. “Let rage wash over you! Let this game begin!”
It was a game that didn’t last long at all.
Valter rushed forward, going for Eirika’s knees. But his wyvern collapsed right before he reached her, the beast having lost so much blood from Cormag’s attacks that it could no longer hold itself up.
Valter was flung from his mount when it collapsed. A plume of sand exploded into the air where his body slammed into it, blocking Eirika’s view for a moment and temporarily blinding her as she hurried to get the dust out of her eyes. When Valter rose, his chest was heaving, eyes red. He tore his lance out of the sand from where it had fallen a few feet away.
Eirika put the wyrmslayer away. The wyvern was clearly not going to be a part of this battle.
Instead, she withdrew her rapier. The same one Seth had tried to use back when he’d first fought Valter. It had been used well in the time since that battle, nearing the time at which it would need to be retired. But it still had a few uses left in it, and she’d put them to good use.
Eirika did not allow Valter to make the first move. Instead, she took advantage of the way his boots had filled with sand to lunge forward, slashing across his chest. Her rapier was thin, and could not deal much damage with each hit regardless of how much her strength had improved since she had first picked it up. But it did damage Valter’s armor, and with another two well-aimed slashes, she had cut through, the bottom half swinging down as it held on by only a thin piece of metal at one corner.
Valter thrust forward as Eirika withdrew from one of her slashes, trying to catch her off balance. Eirika jumped away, the hit only just grazing her chestplate. She slashed again, this time for Valter’s right arm. He couldn’t get away in time, so used to having his wyvern fly out of the way with its extreme strength that he was unused to fighting on foot and the slowness that brought.
He let out a muffled cry as the rapier cut through tendons, the grip he had on his lance immediately breaking as he lost the ability to tighten his fingers. Eirika took advantage of Valter’s flinch to stab at his shoulder, going in from a low angle to hit him from the armpit and pushing up until the tip of the sword hit his shoulder pauldrons. Valter stumbled back, the movement combined with a harsh pull by Eirika freeing the rapier from his flesh.
“Damn you!” Valter screamed, wildly slashing forward with only his left arm as he made a futile attempt to hit Eirika as his right arm hung limply at his side.
Eirika dodged once more. Hit the lance out of the way with the hilt of the rapier. Stabbed forward once again.
Valter’s chest plate was broken. There was nothing stopping her.
So when Eirika lunged forward, rapier tilted just slightly above the horizontal, she continued forward until her knuckles hit Valter’s chest, her head coming up right under his chin.
“This is for Seth. This is for Renais,” Eirika whispered to Valter, who had frozen the moment his heart was pierced.
She used her left hand to push him forward, withdrawing the rapier with her right. Then she stabbed forward again, catching Valter through the chest before he could fall. She withdrew, and thrust once more, the blade going in and then out again as gravity took Valter’s limp body down and off the steel that had impaled it.
Valter croaked, eyes trained on Eirika. Gurgled once or twice. Choked up blood, the red trailing out of the corners of his mouth and down his face. Bled until the white dunes turned maroon.
Eirika took a step back, breathing heavily. It was done. He was dead.
It was terribly petty. She didn’t know why the thought had come up. Ephraim and her father would think terribly of her if they knew. Seth would…
Well. It was for him.
So she took two steps forward, leaning over Valter’s body, and slashed him across the chin.
The wound Seth had dealt him had long since healed and disappeared. The one mark he’d managed to make on Valter gone. But after all the anguish Valter’s actions had caused Eirika, all the pain and suffering he’d brought Seth, she couldn’t let that battle go unmarked. Unremembered. So for Seth, she told herself, she cut Valter once again.
A corpse could not heal. A corpse would bear its wounds forever. So although it was Eirika who had left this particular mark on Valter’s chin, it was in the spirit of the one Seth had made. She did her best to make it look the same too.
And then she walked away.
When they returned to Castle Renais, they fought and killed Orson. Orson, who Eirika and Ephraim and all the knights of Renais who had joined them used to look up to, but had fallen into madness.
They also met ‘Monica.’ A walking corpse that Orson screamed was his loving wife, but was really nothing more than a monster.
She likely had been Monica, once upon a time. The stringy brown hair on her head was the same length as the beautiful locks that Monica had worn. Had she stood straight rather than with a twisted hunch she would have been the same height. Were her eyes not covered by a thin white film, they likely would have been the beautiful ocean-blue that Orson so frequently went on and on about.
Whoever she had been, she was no longer Monica. When Ephraim walked up to her, lance in hand, all the living corpse could do was gasp and gurgle. A repeated “Or-or-or...ss-ss” as she tried to get out her now-dead husband’s name but lacked the control over her vocal cords necessary to do so. It wasn’t helped by the tremors that shook her body as though she was being rocked by an outside force.
When Ephraim beheaded her, the fastest death he could manage, Eirika was filled with pity.
Not disgust. Not fear. But pity. Poor Monica, who had died a relatively quick death only to be brought back in this state of suffering, accompanied by a mad husband who no longer saw her for what she really was. Did she even have the mental capacity to realize how deranged Orson had become? To feel scared of him, to feel bad at her own existence? Was the thing that controlled her body really Monica, or was it just a newly manufactured conscience shoved into a body that was told it had once been a woman named Monica that loved a man named Orson?
Ephraim had no answer for Eirika when she posed her questions. Knoll looked guilty and would not respond.
She wondered which of the two options would be better.
Things did not improve.
They managed to make it to Rausten and retrieve the Sacred Stone, but not without losing Moulder. Garcia refused to follow them any longer, barring Ross from traveling with them. He’d lost so much of his time with his family to war, and his wife was already dead. He did not want to lose his son to war too. Knoll simply disappeared.
They made it to the Darkling Woods, the home of the strange winged girl Ephraim had brought with him, but Dozla and Forde did not survive the journey there. Lute took a claw to the eyes, and though Artur managed to stop the bleeding, he could not save Lute’s sight.
When they finally entered the Black Temple, Eirika’s army could not even be called as much. It was a fragmented force of barely a dozen people, all of which were exhausted from the battles leading up to their entrance.
The demon who had taken over Lyon’s body laughed when he saw the force that had come to stop him.
And Eirika didn’t have the heart to tell him to stop, that he was wrong, that his end would come.
Because though she did her best to wield Sieglinde, the last gift Seth had given her, she could not win. They simply didn’t have the manpower for it.
They managed to defeat the Monsters the Demon King puppeting Lyon had summoned, but they could not defeat Lyon himself.
That, and the one human-like creature by his side.
When Eirika’s eyes landed on him, standing behind Lyon, she froze.
Ephraim killed the Gorgon who went for Eirika in her frozen state, Tana defeating a nearby bonewalker.
Not-Lyon shot them both down with dark magic. Eirika continued to stare, her friends’ cries drowned out by the sound of her own blood rushing in her ears.
He was like Monica.
His skin was ashen. His non-gloved right hand was completely grey, the arm limp at his side. His eyes were glazed over, a white film covering his normally warm red irises. He shook so hard she could hear his armor rattle.
“Seth,” she breathed, focusing on nothing else. The battle was continuing around her, Ephraim had gotten back up. But the world seemed to consist of only Seth. Everything else was happening on a different plane.
“Why…?” she whispered.
“He promised… to spare you,” he croaked, just barely loud enough to hear. His expression was completely empty.
“I...apologize...my lady.” Seth withdrew a silver sword from the scabbard on his right side, holding the blade with only his left hand. His right arm likely did not have the strength to hold it anymore. “I wish...this could have...ended differently.”
He lunged forward.
Eirika hadn’t expected the movement. She felt the sword pierce her side. It didn’t cut deep enough to hit any organs, but it was no simple flesh wound.
“Why!?” she cried back, raising her own sword to parry Seth’s blows. She could not bring herself to launch an attack. “Why are you fighting me? Please Seth, stop this! I’ll save you! I’ll figure out a way. I saw Lyon save a person’s life with one of the Sacred Stones, once upon a time. Please, stop this, and I promise I will do the same for you. Please!”
Seth’s face remained blank as he swung again. “I cannot stop.”
Eirika shook her head, tears blurring her vision. “Yes you can. Please. You don’t have to do this! Whatever he promised you, it doesn’t matter. We’ll both survive this.”
Seth coughed, still trying to fight even as his blows grew weak. ‘You don’t...understand. I want...to stop. I don’t want...to fight you. Never you...my lady. But I cannot…he will not...let me.”
It struck Eirika what he meant. He was a puppet, wasn’t he? He was Seth. He was the Seth she had grown up admiring, the Seth she loved, but although his body and his mind were Seth’s, his actions were not. He was no longer in control of himself. Instead, he was forced to watch as his body decayed further and further and committed acts he would never have dreamed of allowing were he at all capable of preventing them.
The realization hurt.
And it distracted her, like she had distracted Seth so long ago.
The fatal sort of distraction.
A silver sword went through her gut.
Eirika stumbled back, eyes wide in disbelief.
As she collapsed, in the moment before her head hit the floor, she could have sworn she saw tears coming from Seth’s eyes.
But she did not have time to think about it. The world blurred. The dulled sound turned to silence. And then, it was over.
Watching Eirika and Ephraim fight a losing battle hurt Lyon. They were going to die. It was certain. They were going to die, and his body was going to be the one to do it.
He’d watched Eirika suffer for months from his place in the shadows, grieving over a companion who she had not quite lost. He hadn’t wanted to bring Seth back. He had simply made his way to Renais to survey the damage and grab the Stone, only to chance upon Seth’s body outside. He’d seen Seth before. He remembered the stories Eirika and Ephraim told about him. He could see the long turquoise hair on the ground next to him that told him Eirika had been there when he’d died.
He felt bad for the man. He didn’t deserve such a death.
And then a moment later, he was not dead.
He wasn’t alive, either. But he wasn’t dead. The first time he’d done it, it had been on purpose. Now…
Seth was disoriented. He was confused. He was not happy. Especially when Lyon, or the thing in the back of his mind, ordered Seth to tell them all he knew of the Sacred Stones and the secrets Renais held, promising Eirika's safety in return. It was then that Lyon learned of the twin bracelets that would help spell Magvel’s downfall.
Seth began to deteriorate after that. And he continued to do so at a steady pace, growing paler, growing more distant. Until he came back from Ide one day revitalized. In Ide, he had met Eirika. In Ide, he had taken her bracelet. A short time later, he received the other from a messenger sent by Orson. Not long after that, he retrieved both Renais’ Sacred Stone and its Sacred Twins.
It burned, being in their presence. Lyon found himself growing weak when he stood less than a few feet away, and he knew holding onto them increased the rate of Seth’s deterioration. But they made Seth happy. He had promised to deliver them to Eirika, and holding on to them was a reminder of his promise and his devotion, regardless of the fact that it was killing him.
After the Sacred Twins were delivered to Eirika in Jehanna, Seth seemed truly happy for the first time since his revival. That happiness spread to Lyon. He had trapped Seth in such a terrible, inhumane situation. He was glad that he could make Seth happy for short moment, even if he could never make up for what he had done.
Seth continued to deteriorate. Seth stayed by Lyon’s side.
Even when Lyon’s body was not Lyon’s to control, Seth stayed.
So when Eirika appeared before them in the Black Temple, Seth was there. And the Demon King, being the monster he was, ordered Seth to fight. An order he could not oppose.
Lyon was connected to every body he revived. He could feel their pain in the back of his mind, sense the general tone of their emotions. From Seth came waves of pain and anguish. Begs for death, desperate pleas to collapse before he did Eirika any lasting harm.
The pleas were not answered. Eirika was felled by Seth’s blade.
Formotiis took that moment to cut Seth’s strings. To end the ‘life support’ that had kept his corpse moving since the day Lyon had revived him. Lyon watched as Eirika stumbled several feet back and Seth stumbled several feet in the other direction. Had he any control of his body, he knew he would have cried.
He did not though. So his eyes were torn away from the scene against his will as Formotiis surveyed the destruction he had wrought, looked at the room full of corpses. Eirika was dead. Ephraim was dead. All those who had come with them were dead.
It was total destruction.
As Formotiis puppeted Lyon’s body toward the last Sacred Stone so he could destroy it once and for all, he glanced over at Eirika’s corpse one final time.
Had Lyon's body been ruled by human emotions, he knew his heart would have stopped.
When Eirika had fallen and Formotiis ended the spell giving Seth’s corpse life, they had been several feet away.
In the split second between when Lyon’s body looked at Eirika’s corpse and turned to Rausten’s Sacred Stone, Lyon could see a grey hand tangled in turquoise hair. A gentle touch.
Then the stone broke and the world went white.