Fire Emblem Fan Fiction ❯ The Promise of Return ❯ The First Battle ( Chapter 2 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Disclaimer: I don't own Fire Emblem. It only wishes I did.
Note: The characters that I don't plan on using are either given a way out through the story of completely ignored. Which method I choose depends on how I feel about the character. So don't be confused if you see several names missing from this fic.
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The First Battle
The morning was a somber gray affair. By the creek, located near to the campsite, a few birds attempted to blast out their morning song. A rustling in the weeds close by, however, sent them flying for a safer perch. The paladin Seth, who appeared to have gotten almost no sleep, had disrupted them. His eyes were blood-shot and his hair rumpled, almost as though the knight had ruffled it frequently as he tossed and turned in his troubled sleep.
He knew that the key to battle was a sound body and mind; neither of his felt ready to fight. His only hope was that a cold bath would wake his muscles and jolt his senses in preparation.
Seeking a tree with low-lying branches, Seth quickly undressed and hung his clothes well above the water. But as he slipped into the brisk water, the sound of splashing revealed that he wasn't alone. No matter, Seth needed to focus on getting the sleep out of his eyes first. He splashed water into his face and rubbed it into his eyes as he continued walking towards the deeper section of the creek.
It felt good, refreshing. But still he couldn't wash away the troubles and weights bearing down on him, grinding into his spirit and weakening his body. He scrubbed and scrubbed but still he couldn't shake off the guilt. He should've gone with the princess, should've insisted on his presence in her company, should've continued protecting the woman he loved.
But here he was, joining forces with men and women who really didn't need him: he had seen them in action, they needed no aid. So what could he do now? He couldn't go to Ephraim and ask for a reassignment, that would be too obvious. And he couldn't let this defeat him either, he'd die if he continued along this path. There was only clear choice - take Forde's advice and fight with all he had.
He shook his head in disbelief. He was acting like a silly schoolboy and that wasn't acceptable.
Scrubbing furiously, he continued his idle walk through the creek. The sounds of splashing were becoming louder and Seth was curious as to who else joined him this morning.
A fence of tall waterweeds shielded whoever it was. Not wanting to scare the hider, Seth called out hesitantly. “Hello?”
The sounds of splashing seemed to stop suddenly, as though whoever it was expected an attack. Seth approached with caution; it wasn't unfathomable that an enemy soldier was hiding within the waterweed circle.
“May I ask who's in there?”
“Oh, it's me, Forde. Is that you general?”
“Yes, it is. Forde, how do you fare this morning?”
The cavalier poked his head through the weeds, looking flustered. “Oh, I'm doing fine. Couldn't get too much sleep, though.”
“Oh?” said Seth with concern, “Are you feeling well?”
“Oh, yes, indeed. I just had a lot of things on my mind. You know how it is, with war and everything…”
The general nodded gravely. He certainly did know. He still thought he should ask; pay Forde back if he could…
“Is it anything I can help you with?”
Forde looked him in the eys, saw the genuine kindness and worry, and smiled. Seth, however, did notice a pinkish tinge about his face.
“No, no,” replied Forde, “I'm alright, really.”
Seth smiled. “Are you hiding from me?”
What came out of Forde was rather startling, sort of like a horse neighing. “No,” he said, grinning weakly (his blush intensified), “I'm just - just - finishing up.”
“Ah. I'm almost done here myself. What say we take a little trip into the forest afterwards and hunt down some game for breakfast?”
The blushing knight nodded eagerly. “Sure, whatever you say. Just give me a few moments, general, and I'll meet you soon enough.”
“I'll be over there by the tree.”
“Excellent,” said Forde a little too loudly. He hastily retreated behind the shielding waterweeds.
As Seth made his slow way back to the tree, he couldn't help but think there was something that was greatly troubling the young man.
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They had dried off and dressed and, armed with daggers and a few roughly made slingshots, set off into the nearby forest.
“General, if I may ask you something?”
“Between you and me, what do you think our chances of victory are?”
The paladin sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Well, I do think we've got the odds stacked up against us… We, with such small numbers, are taking on an entire kingdom, not to mention hordes of bizarre creatures. It will be a difficult fight… However, nothing is going to stop the prince, or me.”
Forde nodded. “That's the spirit, sir. I'm glad to see you doing so much better than you were last night.”
At his words, Seth felt a little uncomfortable. “Yes, Forde, and about that - I just wanted to express my gra -”
“Op,” interrupted Forde with a smile and raised hand, “no words are needed, general. I would, however, appreciate it if my work load could some how be feasibly reduced?”
Seth laughed. “Yes, well we'll see about that.” He shook his head in disbelief at the cavalier.
Grinning broadly, Forde winked back.
They were deep in the woods now and, dropping their genial manner, stayed low, pulled rough daggers out, and stalked stealthily through the army of trees.
“General,” whispered Forde.
Seth nodded once to indicate he was listening.
“What do you say we make this a little interesting? Whoever gets the game first gets a lighter load of chores.”
The paladin shook his head. “If I hadn't known better I'd think I was talking to Joshua. Alright then, it's a deal.”
They took off in separate directions.
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It was a dismal Forde who walked back to tent.
“There you are!” called an indignant voice. The two knights turned round to see who was calling. It was Kyle. “Forde, I thought you had run off to draw or some nonsense. Oh, general, I didn't realize that was you. Good morning, is it?”
Seth sighed. “That does depend. If you gentlemen will excuse me, I've got to meet with the prince.”
“Of course,” replied Kyle.
“You'll not best me next time, general,” declared Forde.
Seth smiled briefly before setting off for the largest tent in the campsite.
Kyle waited until the general was out of earshot before rounding on Forde. “You were supposed help out with the morning chores, Forde. Instead, I had to pack all our things. And where were you? Off for a peaceful stroll through the forest? Huh?”
Feeling like he was being attacked, Forde raised his hands defensively. “Easy there. I didn't shirk any responsibilities. I went for a quick bath in the creek and met up with the general there. We went hunting afterwards.”
“You did, did you?” Kyle's eyes traveled to Forde's hands and saw them woefully empty.
“Yea, well,” Forde grinned sheepishly, “the general's a lot better at it than I am.”
“Yea, yea yea. Either way, come on, we've got some work to do.”
Forde bowed low before following his friend. “Yes, mother.”
Kyle scowled.
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A little bell rang outside the opening flap of the prince's tent. Larger than the rest, it not only contained Ephraim's sleeping mat but a rough table and stool as well, ideal for planning strategy in private.
“Come in,” the prince called. He sighed as he looked over his map again. This was going to be difficult, to say the least…
“Prince Ephraim? You wanted to see me?”
“Yes, yes, of course. Please have a seat.” He gestured at a spare stool on the other side of the table.
A map had been rolled out and tacked down. It focused mainly on Grado's area, marking off all of the forts, rivers, and even minor hills that could aid in planning attacks, but also carried a small, less detailed map of the entire continent in which only capitals were marked off.
Sethh took his seat and looked over the map, his eyes trailing to the north. He wasn't exactly sure where the princess and her troops were located, but he still speculated on her welfare.
Luckily, the prince didn't notice the source of the general's preoccupation.
“I have marked off the expected trail I'm planning to take in the next few days or so. I haven't lined up our entire path since war is too unpredictable to even guess about these days.” Seth nodded grimly upon hearing those words; he, like others, still pondered what had moved the allied nation of Grado to attacked Renais. “As you can see, I'm planning to take this fort today. Fort Rigwald.”
“Any idea of what we can expect to find inside?” queried Seth, his eyes narrowed in focus as he studied the terrain surrounding the target of attack.
Ephraim sighed. “That, I'm afraid is indiscernible at this moment. But I feel that we have a varied enough troop to deal with most occurrences. Would you agree?”
His question had caught the paladin off guard: his eyes had once again traveled to the northern regions. “What - oh - I do, your highness, I do.”
The prince rolled his eyes but smiled good-naturedly. “Please, Seth, Ephraim will do. You are my elder, are you not?”
“Yes, but -”
“But nothing. You're my elder and it is you to whom I should be paying respect.”
Looking stern - but with a glint in his eyes - Seth inclined his head. “If you insist.”
“Excellent. Now for a plan of attack, it seems that the only method that can be implanted in this scenario would be the ever popular `Rush in Blindly and Hope for the Best.'”
The general raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure this is wise?”
“Do you have an alternate option?”
And again, Seth's eyes lingered on the map, his mind picturing the princess in his mind, a rapier in hand and the scenes of battle surrounding her. He couldn't waste time with useless debate. “No, Ephraim, I don't. Shall I prepare the troops?”
“Yes, I think that would be best. Off you go…sir.” Ephraim winked.
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Several hours later, the remaining troops of Renais were set in odd formation just outside Fort Rigwald. It looked impenetrable, like a solid block of granite. There were about four tiny windows, one on each side, to be used by spies. No doubt there was a report of enemy troops racing through the hallways and traveling like wild fire through word of mouth. It looked as though getting in would be nigh impossible…
…if it wasn't for the simple fact that the front gates had been left open, like the waiting jaws of the patient crocodiles. Ephraim scowled and his resolved stiffened. It was insulting. The enemy was mocking them, as though implying that the prince's troops were so pathetic, so laughably sad that there was no need for a real defense, no need to take them seriously. All of it was just so patronizing.
Ephraim smirked inwardly, as though he was the only one in n a private joke: he was going to make them pay dearly for their foolish miscalculation. They would be victorious, he decided. The gods themselves would be hard pressed to prevent the prince's victory. He picked up his lance and slammed it forcefully into the ground.
“Troops,” he addressed the collection of men and women standing proudly before him, “we are going into the unknown, crossing over into enemy territory.” Neimi trembled. “Despite all of that, we are going to win, we are going to take over that castle and make those Grado dogs rue the day they ever underestimated us.”
“Hear, hear,” said Kyle and Forde bravely. Colm looked over at them from the corner of his eye and smirked, rolling his eyes at Joshua.
“Now, we'll have to remain as quiet as we possibly can inside so as not to alert the enemy. And soon enough it'll be so loud within that fort that communication will be nearly impossible. So here's the strategy: I'd like for Natasha to remain at the very rear of our group, with Neimi and Artur on either side of her, using sniper tactics and raining down death on the enemy.” Artur flinched at the use of such morbid words.
“Colm, put your dagger to use whenever you can but remember to loot their treasure holds. We need as much money as we can possibly obtain for supplies.” The thief made no show that he was even paying attention to the prince, but when Ephraim looked away, he winked at Joshua and twirled his lock pick around, the myrmidon grinned back.
“The rest of will simply have to fight as hard as we can. Fight as though everything is riding on this… which it is,” the prince realized suddenly, adding even more pressure to the moment. Ephraim couldn't help but think, in the vast recesses of his brain, that they were in over their head: this was different from merely surviving and escaping whenever possible, they were actually the taking the aggressor's role, and victory would not be determined until one side was completely annihilated.
As the prince lapsed into thoughtful silence, forgetting for a moment that an entire troop was hanging on his every word, Kyle stepped forth and threw in his two cents into the pot. “A word of advice,” he began - Forde felt himself fill with dread - “it may be wise if the rest of you stay behind Seth, Forde and I. We do happen to have the most armor and be the strongest and most battle-ready. We can take the majority of the foe down and you guys can pick off the remains.”
Forde slapping his forehead was the only sound for a few moments. There was a shocked silence in the air tinted with some scorn. Kyle looked about and was confused.
“What?” he asked Forde, who simply rolled his eyes and set his horse going. Shrugging, Kyle followed suit.
Coming to his senses, Ephraim looked around and nodded quickly. “Yes, into the fort. General?”
Forde heard the prince question the flame-haired paladin worriedly and looked round. Seth looked incredibly confused, as though he wasn't sure of what he was even doing there but, somehow, his eyes found Forde's and the cavalier pumped his fist encouragingly, which seemed to send a jolt through Seth's body, reminding him of his task. His gaze became more determined. Forde nodded, winking as he did so.
They entered the fort as quietly as possible; the only sounds the clip-clop of the horses' hooves. Natasha's heal staff's orb cast everything in a dim blue light, sending odd oceanic images all along the walls. It took a while for everyone's eyes to adjust to the darkness, the torches not being nearly enough light to illuminate the huge passages of the fort.
But there came a distant twang and an arrow landed just shy of Ephraim's foot. His face contorted with rage and he cried out, “Attack!”
Letting go of their nerves, the troops rushed forward as one, like a deadly jungle-cat. Kyle took the lead, his lance poised as he neared his first foe, a large knight. When the moment came, he jabbed at the big man but felt his lance barely dent the armor. He was forced to pull up his horse, which whinnied with panic, in order to escape injury.
A flash of blue rushed past him and he saw the thief Colm take down the mighty opponent in a series of quick swipes. Joshua and Colm then exchanged smirks as Neimi jumped to the front and bravely took down a fellow archer in two clean shots.
“That's the way, Nem!” called Colm. He turned to look Kyle in the eyes and arched his eyebrow slightly, as is saying, `that the best you got?' The cavalier looked down in embarrassment.
Seconds later he heard Forde's laughter and felt a comforting pat on the shoulder. “Cheer up. They've got more experience than we do, professional soldiers or not. Take it easy and let's work together, yea?”
Sighing, Kyle nodded in defeat. “Yea.” But his spirits were lifted slightly when he and Forde took down another large knight within minutes.
The battle raged on: Ephraim whirled his deadly lance about and speared each man he came into contact with; the two cavaliers teamed up and brought down as many foes as they could; there was the familiar `chink' as Colm unlocked numerous treasure chests; Neimie and Artur rained down lighting and sharpened arrows upon a blind enemy; the glow of Natasha's staff never faded. But none was more impressive than General Seth.
It was as though something had possessed his body, instilling within him the desire to fight furiously, to leave no man standing and to allow for no mistakes. His sword and spear twirled about incredibly, two effective tools of war. Watching him fight for the woman he loved, watching him take two or three enemy soldiers on at a time, well, was nothing short of majestic.
Ephraim's soldiers were moving steadily inwards, their trail littered with the bloody corpses of the foe. Cries of pain and sorrow rang out everywhere, bouncing off the walls and echoing. One felt as though they were in the very Underworld itself.
Eventually they reached the dungeons. The prince rushed forward into a holding cell that had been opened by the nimble Colm. He had been expecting to see either a mound of gold or a captive soldier, not to feel the touch of feathered wings and hear a girlish squeal.
“Ephraim? Is that really you?” It was Tana, the princess of Frelia.
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Kyle grunted with the effort as he took down another cavalier himself. Pausing to catch his breath, the man once again heard the approaching sounds of Forde. Unbelievably, he was grinning.
“Having fun?” he asked of Kyle, who managed to smile back and shake his head. “I forgot how exhausting a true battle is.”
Five soldiers on foot raced past, not bothering to stop for the two horse riders.
“Coming?” called Colm, his eyes mocking.
“Don't worry; we'll be there soon enough. I understand that you don't feel safe without us,” came Forde's reply.
The thief looked over his shoulder and arched his eyebrow, before smirking reluctantly.
Forde laughed and ducked a flaming arrow. “Come on,” he said, gesturing to the open way, “we've got some catching up to do. Can't let them have all the fun, can we?”
Shaking his head at Forde's happy-go-lucky demeanor - even on the battlefield - Kyle set his horse galloping and said, “Nope, let's get to it!”
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“Tana, is that you really you?” the prince asked in complete amazement. Never in a thousand years had he expected to find the girl here, weaponless and in an enemy prison.
The girl looked down and a blush began to creep on her cheeks. “Yes, it is.”
“Well…” said Ephraim trying not to smile, “what are you doing here?”
“Trying to help you,” she said, in a voice that was barely audible.
“Were you now,” said the prince, grinning broadly. He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “Things seem to have gone awry, haven't they?” He laughed as Tana punched him in the chest.
“Get me out of here,” she demanded. “And let me borrow a lance, I'm dying to get this Grado filth back for what they did to me.”
Still laughing, the prince helped her onto her winged-steed and handed her a slim lance, a weapon he thought most suitable for the still training Pegasus knight. Together they rushed out of the holding cell and searched for the nearest enemy. With some help from the prince, Tana took down a few archers, with her Pegasus stamping on their limbs with ferocity for what the poor creature had recently suffered.
The battle was going well. There had been no injuries Natasha was incapable of healing and the enemy was going with the ease of dried grass. Victory seemed inevitable for the Renais soldiers.
Finally, they reached the darkest chambers, sealed off by a complicated lock that gave Colm little trouble. The doors swung open and the soldiers walked through the doorway, their senses sharpening almost instantly upon entrance. It was pitch black within, with only Natasha's staff shedding any light.
Ephraim snapped his fingers and then realized no one would be able to see him. Taking care to keep his voice as low as possible, he called out instruction. “Seth, Forde and Kyle, keep to the left. The rest, stay to the right.”
The patterns were formed. The prince searched for the monk and, upon locating Artur, asked, “Is there anything you can do about this light?”
“I'll do my best, your highness.” Concentrating with his eyes closed, Artur muttered an ancient spell and cast a ball of light into the air, filling the chamber with brilliant incandescence. What was revealed was unsettling, to say the least.
All along the top of the right wall were several archers, their arrows set to string and ready. Upon losing their cover, they let loose with their steel shafts and rained deadly metal on the group below. Ephraim whirled his lance to get block some of the attack.
“Tana!” he shouted, “Get out of range.” The Pegasus knight complied, hastily making her way to join the horsemen.
After locking eyes, Neimi and Artur took aim and rained down hell on the poor archers who fell, one by one, onto the ground behind them.
As soon as that threat had been put down, another had flared up. There was the sound of steel clanging. Kyle had reached the leader first. A gigantic man armed with an axe that looked to heavy for a man to even lift, let alone wield in combat, had locked arms with the knight's lance. It didn't look good. Ephraim knew Kyle was ill-suited to fare against such an opponent.
“Kyle - fall back!” Ephraim ordered. “Joshua - attack!” A flash of crimson ran by followed by a streak of blue. The prince didn't object.
The two men danced about the strong man, who continually missed as the light warriors used their speed and agility as best they could. His axe swung into the wall behind him and stuck fast. Swords dived in, making the best of this opportunity, and made short work of the leader of Fort Rigwald.
With a thunderous thud, the heavy man fell to the floor.
Still feeling the adrenaline coursing through his body, the prince walked up to Joshua and Colm, placed a hand on their shoulders and said, “Gentlemen, we did it.”