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Title: Through These Nights - Chapter 03: Inaction
Genre: adventure, drama
Fandom: Fire Emblem 8
Characters/pairings: eventual Knoll/Natasha, Amelia, Duessel, Cormag, mentions of numerous others.
Summary/prompt: Grado lies in ruin, and a small band of its expatriates sets out to rebuild. In the face of horrors both past and present, they must complete their duties and somehow survive.
Chapter notes: beginnings of plot movement here, also, first foray into "action" scenes. Whoo.

"Thrust, parry, duck – that's it, faster, don't slow down now!"

Duessel watched from a distance as Cormag barked instructions to the able-bodied villagers, each armed with a basic sword. The lad was an exemplary teacher, far better than the general had expected. He spotted some of his own technique in the way Cormag corrected his students' posture and gave small nods of encouragement before quickly returning to the routine.

The older man had let Cormag take over the training from time to time, and he was glad for it. As wonderful as it was to be back in his element instead of leading troops into death, it was even better to see someone new finding his calling, even if it was someone who still seemed unsure when fighting on the ground. The only one who seemed truly displeased with the arrangement was Genarog, who occasionally let out heavy sighs and snapped his teeth in the direction of the training fields.

"Nothing out in those woods is going to spare you if you falter. Keep at it!"

It was a truth Duessel had always tried to impress on every villager he met, especially in the outskirts of the country. They couldn't possibly stay to fend off the monsters still lurking in the marshes and forests. At best, they had a week for each village, just enough time to teach basic defense to people who'd known peace for most of their lives. Killing a bonewalker or mauthe doog was nothing like hunting deer or rabbits. Far too many had died thinking it might be, in the months since the quake. Before then, the creatures had stayed mostly to the outskirts, but now it seemed they were everywhere.

"Keep at it!" Cormag repeated, louder now. The ragtag group of villagers did just that, swinging their swords as demonstrated despite the chill rising in the night air. Duessel smiled faintly as he stepped in to correct a young man's stance, prompting a snort from the abandoned wyvern on the sidelines.

A week wasn't long enough to do much more than teach the basics. Then again, even with more time, some would probably never pick it up. Duessel knew this much from experience. He'd tried too many times to put a sword in Natasha's hands, just for defensive purposes in case her spells should fail, or push a lance on Knoll to toughen the boy up. The former had only poked at the blade in distaste; the latter nearly toppled over trying to keep hold of the weapon. Some things, he supposed, were simply not meant to be. Not everyone was as eager to learn as Amelia, who was out riding the perimeter of the village.

As he watched Cormag help a struggling villager execute an effective blow, he wondered if the lad would ever learn the same thing. If his repeated insistence on trying to teach Knoll how to ride a wyvern was any indication, it would take some time – though Duessel couldn't honestly say he hadn't been amused by the look on the scholar's pale face when he finally reached the ground again.

"I think that's enough for tonight, Cormag," he called at last. As precious as time was, there was only so much progress one night could bring. Cormag gave a nod and called out an order to meet again at daybreak, before coming over to join Duessel and his mount. Genarog narrowed his eyes for just a moment in protest at the neglect, but finally stopped snorting and sighing as Cormag returned his glare with a stern frown.

"They seem to be in better shape than the last place," the younger man noted. "I think they'll be fine, with a bit more training. Is Rausten sending any more bishops this way?"

Duessel shook his head. "They're stretched too thin already, between their own affairs and the problems closer to their borders. There simply aren't enough to spare, and even if they were, the journey is a dangerous one. I do not fault them."

Cormag grimaced, but nodded. It was hardly a surprise at this point, to find that their efforts would not be aided. It had been over a year since the funeral of emperor and prince, but wounds like those caused by the war would take far longer to heal. Renais was still struggling to rebuild, and it was far easier to justify aid to a victim than to an aggressor.

This is the fate of fools who consort with demons, he'd heard one foreign cleric murmur to another, as she treated the wounds of commoners in a city further south. He'd barely resisted the urge to strike her and bellow curses in her face, a sort of violence he never wished to display again. The fate of the fool who consorted with demons was an honorable funeral insisted upon by the royals of Renais, and the bliss of never truly knowing the chaos his country had been thrust into. The fate of the innocent, as far as Duessel could see, was too often worse.

His thoughts were interrupted as the clamor of hooves on earth approached, far more frenzied than Amelia's usual pace.

"General Duessel, there's a breach at the north side of the village – "

It was clear immediately what sort of "breach" this was. "How many?" he asked quickly.

"I couldn't count, but Knoll was there already. He sent me to get help."

The villagers were nowhere near prepared enough to face this, of course. "Fetch Natasha. Cormag-"

Cormag was already atop Genarog, spear in hand. This was far too routine to be alien to him, or any of them. The beast took flight, and Duessel's steed set out behind it. There was no time to spare. There never was.

- - -

There had been a time when Knoll had not feared the dead eyes of his tutor's phantoms, or shuddered when they came near. They had been curiosities, specimens to be studied. Back then, there was no way looking at them would remind him of dead kings, or that their smell would bring thoughts of the wretched breath of half-rotten dragons. Such things were once relegated to legend. No longer, of course.

He knew, looking at the number of beasts he spied at the edge of the woods and coming toward him, that his magic alone was not enough. Even with the phantoms, he would not last long. They'd never encountered a horde so large since setting out to restore the former empire, at least, not all at once.

He swallowed his terror and closed his eyes, envisioning the creatures he wished to create. They were different than the ones who used to patrol the area: lither, faster, with strong grips on their weapons and dead eyes fixed on the enemy. He prayed they'd be enough distraction to extend his borrowed time just a bit longer, at least long enough to keep the village safe.

An arrow whizzed past his ear, missing by less than an inch, as he grabbed for his tomes and tried to remember the name for each of the beasts from his textbooks, if only to calm himself down. Deathgoyle. Mogall. Wight –

He couldn't put a name to the creature that sprang past his phantoms and pinned him to the ground, ragged teeth bared, before he could even begin to chant a spell.

Always so slow, Knoll. A taunt he'd heard too many times. He lifted the book and smashed it over the beast's head. As it howled in shock, he took the opportunity to roll away and finish the chant, looking away as his magic consumed the enemy.

You should have asked Amelia to stay. You're going to die here.

No, he couldn't have asked her to do that. If she hadn't gone, they'd both have died, and the village would be ravaged before any of the others could even catch on. It hadn't been an option.

Knoll cringed as one of the phantoms faded into the night, the arrow that eliminated it falling silently to the ground. His chanting, this time, was able to take the creature responsible out, and then three more in its vicinity. His energy was running low, too low to even think about replacing the phantoms who died just as quickly and silently as they were born.

You're going to die here, he thought again. As you should have, back then

He quickly shut out those thoughts and began, again, to chant his spells, barely dodging the arrows and spears and fangs that kept coming at him. Just a while longer. He had to hold out, just a while longer –

The sound came first. The squelch of heavy blade splaying flesh wide open, the crack of bone breaking. The sound of his own scream, shamefully shrill and strangled. The crash of his books hitting the ground just before his body did. The pain only hit him then, a kind of tearing feeling, perhaps like the hideous cousin of the ache in his arm after trying, and failing, to lift Duessel's ridiculous lance. He was dimly aware that he was still screaming, that his sleeve was hot and sticky with blood, that the shaking hand he had pressed to the gash did nothing to stop it. And finally, for just a moment, vision came – the sight of a gigantic creature, almost humanoid, were it not for the lower half of its body, raising its bloodied axe for another blow.

He remembered it clearly from the illustrations he'd pored over in the castle library - illustrations of creatures that were only supposed to exist in fairy tales. Maeldiun, he thought, before his world went dark.


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July 2011

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