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Hey, so I'm sure some of you have read The Shadow Tactician: To Challenge Fate, by @TheSilentChloey. For those of you who haven't, it's worth a read, though I must warn you there is some Rated-M stuff involved, so steer clear if you don't like that kind of stuff in a story. Anyways, I was working on some of my own writing around the time ST reached Chapter 22, and had an idea occur to me to do something of a collaboration Gaiden Chapter. I ran the idea by Chloey, who was fine with it, and eventually ended up continuing on to make some contributions to Chapter 26, currently the newest Chapter in ST. Chloey suggested I add 22x, alongside the other Gaiden Chapters leading up to 26x(which are unfortunately not yet complete), onto here so people would have the info needed to get the full idea of what exactly happens semi-behind-the-scenes for Chapters 22-26. So, without further ado, here we go. To clarify, this is best understood after reading Chapter 22 of ST proper, though I'm afraid there are some things I can't quite answer just yet. I'm also working on where to put Feedback for this, so we'll see how that goes. For now, Feedback can be added into the Feedback Thread of ST, addressed to myself. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- “...Well, there’s Fort Steiger.” We stood looking down at the imposing fortress, where the day’s battle was concluding...in loss. The Shepherds’ forces were retreating, and I couldn’t see anyone unique enough compared to the others to be this world’s iteration of the Fellblood anywhere, meaning he or she had probably either been captured...or killed. Olivia’s son, Inigo, was also nowhere to be seen. Other than that, though, there didn’t appear to be any casualties for the Shepherds, which was good, as it meant they still had the manpower to try again. On the other hand...now that she knew they were here, Pheros would obliterate them if they did try again. Looking back to my group, I was glad I ended up with at least one of the sneakier ones. “Dullahan, I need you to run scouting point for us - find out how much damage Chrom’s forces did, whether Pheros intends to pursue them, etc.” He nodded. “Should I remove the enemy commander as well?” “Hm...if I had Bloom to go with you and back you up, I would say yes, but it’s not worth the risk to send a lone assassin in there.” I replied. “For now, keep it strictly to spy work unless you absolutely have to.” He nodded once more, and headed down as I looked at the rest of the Wanderers who had ended up with me: Ishizu, Orvar, Sillva, Klare, Star, Sola, Falcon, Edge, Wyrm, Huntaire, Bard, Dragun, and Anya. Fifteen total once you added Dullahan and myself, a ridiculously small number to be assaulting a fortress like that with, and we had access to even fewer as Bard wasn’t equipped to fight and I wanted Wyrm kept out of battle as much as possible, seeing as how a Demon Dragon is kind of a majorly difficult thing to disguise, so...thirteen fighters. Six Swordfighters, two Lancers, one Archer, two Mages(well, technically Sillva was a Cantor, but she could throw hexes around if needed), one Assassin, and me. Too many Swords, I jokingly thought to myself as Anya approached, joining me to look at Fort Steiger. “So that’s our target, then?” She asked, folding her arms. “Looks imposing enough, I guess. On the fence about fielding the Dragons, eh?” “Um...am I that obvious?” I asked, surprised. “Your goal up to this point seems centered around relative inconspicuousness,” She shrugged. “And Dragons are kinda conspicuous all things considered, not to mention Bard can’t really fight when he’s not a Dragon. Wyrm at least knows a couple spells if it comes to that.” “Fair point,” I laughed, rubbing my neck. “I’m kind of glad someone else realized that, honestly.” She sighed, turning to me. “You...do realize you can only let maybe half of us fight if you really want to stay as inconspicuous as possible, right?” “Wait...what?” This was surprising. “Why?” “Well, think about it,” She answered. “The Shepherds have this timeline’s variant of Owain and Tharja with them, right? That means it’s possible someone will see Orvar or Sillva and link us more closely to the Shepherds than you want us linked. Sola isn’t as big of an issue, but she’s still similar enough to her mother that there’s a small possibility someone may connect them. Then there are Dullahan, Edge, and Ishizu - seeing them fight, it would take a real idiot to not connect them with the Angel of Death, Scarlet Sword, and Thunder Goddess of yore, at least assuming the Valmese have heard the same tales that were passed down in Ylisse. Falcon escapes this due to his part in the quest against Zephiel being obscured by time, and Klare should be safe too, since everyone knows the Sword Demon is a man, so at best she would be viewed as a wannabe legend like Orvar. Star could go either way, since it’s not likely anyone will connect her with Larcei and Ayra of Jugdralian lore, but her Astra technique is much stronger than those of today’s time since she learned it directly under tutelage of her mother, when the secrets of the Skill were not lost to the ages. However, if you want to be as safe as possible, fielding her may be a mistake due to the possibility of having someone realize who she is. Huntaire will probably be recognized if he goes off on his usual spiel about hunters and prey, and you know how likely that is, and we already covered Wyrm and Bard, meaning that if we try to be as inconspicuous as possible the only people who can even try to attack are you, me, Klare, perhaps Sola and Star, and Dragun.” ...Well, dang. That would mean a team of six - four Swordfighters, a Lancer, and me - would have to take on a fortress of soldiers, most of them likely Cavalry, Valm’s specialty, without outside aid. While we were fresh and many of the soldiers were likely tired from the battle with the Shepherds, the difference would be minimal if noticeable at all. Add in my deathless policy...it would be a miracle to pull off and a nightmare to try. Dullahan chose this time to reappear for his report. “We arrived at almost the perfect time,” He informed me, “Apparently this world’s Orvar and Reaper managed to break through the enemy lines and kill Pheros before their group had to retreat. The enemy force would have completely come apart at the seams were it not for one thing: Valm seems to run their Generals in shifts, like a night watch. Pheros’ replacement is due today, and only the knowledge of his approach has kept the Valmese troops together.” Owain and Henry, huh...figures one of them would be the one to get to Pheros. I couldn’t help but feel bad for her, though - to die the day you were meant to be relieved of your position...I forced myself back to the matter at hand as Dullahan continued. “The replacement General, a man called Reider, is supposedly an aggressive man who the troops expect will pursue the Shepherds once he learns of their plight - chances are they’ll try to get any wounded back to the port, and he intends to head them off and slaughter anyone sent there.” ...Obviously, that would be bad. Definitely couldn’t let that happen, which meant...ugh… “Ok,” I nodded, “I guess we’re going to have to go all in, then. I still would rather not risk Bard or Wyrm, though…” “If you intend to keep Wyrm out of battle,” Dullahan stated, “Then I would recommend fielding Bard so that he can keep us going with his tune. You’ll want a guard for Wyrm in case someone finds them, and Bard can help the rest of us make up for the lost man.” A good point. “Alright, so we deploy Bard instead of...who should we have guard Wyrm?” “Well,” Anya cut in, “I would recommend Sillva - she should be able to keep Wyrm safe from any stray fighters, and she’s not quite as suited to an assault as the rest of us. Additionally, if we have a Risen attack, there’s the possibility she can Turn some of the Risen to fight for our side, even if only temporarily, and if she’s outside with Wyrm she’ll be able to detect the Risen earlier than she would if she were inside with us." "I’d also say we should have someone keep an eye on Bard." She continued. "Perhaps Dragun? She seems to have taken an almost motherly liking to the boy, and she’d probably see it as another chance to repair the damage to Dragonkind she’s done.” “Sounds good, so we use Bard instead of Sillva and Dragun is Bard’s Shield. I think I’m going to have the rest of us go solo instead of pairing up this time - we have to hit them fast and hard, and we can do more damage if we’re spread out. There’s a risk, but priority one right now should be ensuring the Valmese are unable to pursue the Shepherds. Let the others know, Dullahan.” He nodded and went to tell the others as Huntaire came up to me, looking somewhat grim. When we told him the plan he nodded. “Excellent - perhaps I can finally find some sport before returning to Lady Thorn! I find I can’t help but worry for her, out who knows where without me to provide assistance. If it were anyone else I might be afraid of them coming to harm. As it is, let’s get this hunt over with quickly, shall we? I do so hate to leave her without a Retainer to provide for her wants for so long.” “Yeah, I’m as anxious to get back to the others as you, Huntaire,” I assured him, wondering once more how on earth Thorn managed to end up with psychopaths like Huntaire and Narcissus so desperately devoted to her. “Get prepped, alright? This’ll be over in a snap.” Oh, how I would regret those words. The first problem came when they saw us. Our plan had been to reach the gates before they realized we were there, but someone happened to come out onto the otherwise empty ramparts as we approached, probably to enjoy the light rain that had begun to fall, and raised the alarm. “Ishizu!” I yelled as Archers began to appear across the top of the wall, deciding to just go ham and hang caution. “Screw inconspicuousness, blow the gate open!” She obliged, falling back behind us as we continued advancing, and I heard her cry of “Thunderous Heart...MJOLNIR!!!” before a mighty lightning bolt dropped from the heavens and struck the front gates. While said gates were clearly designed to hold against magical assault as well as physical, it had been a long time since anyone had needed to consider the Thunder Goddess of Jugdral as a potential opponent, and thus the gates were woefully inadequate for the task at hand, weakened by the Shepherds as they were. Ishizu’s blast crumpled the gates better than any battering ram or siege engine, and made all the soldiers on the ramparts seriously reconsider their position as open targets to a heaven-sent thunderbolt. The rest of us had nearly reached the gates by the time they managed to get up the courage to send their men out when their best gates had just had a hole punched through them like a lance through the throat, and then the second problem hit. They still had Cavalry. Dullahan had informed me that he hadn’t seen any evidence of Cavalry within the walls, but apparently they still had a fair amount, because here were two whole Cavalry Squadrons rushing through the smashed gates and forcing us to fall back so we could have room to deal with the mounted troops. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Falcon almost casually hamstring two horses, dumping their riders as Edge went airborne, killing another two soldiers while they were still atop their mounts, then another man was attacking me only to have me sidestep before dropping to the ground in front of his horse. The horse, of course averse to trampling a person, made the mistake of rearing back, and I left a cut right up its middle before stepping aside and letting the horse hit the ground writhing, with one of its rider’s legs trapped beneath in the stirrup. In the poor man’s defense, he had no way of knowing how experienced with Cavalry I was - how was he supposed to know I had trained against the Nohrian Royal Family, all of whom save Anya fought astride a mount of some kind, two melee fighters and two ranged fighters? Moving ahead, I blocked a swing that would have cut Sola’s back open, but Klare beat me to the man with a shout of “Feast, Blade, FEEAST!!”, leaving an X of blood across his front as he toppled from his horse. Star whizzed past me as I turned, and she and Dullahan brought down another soldier, with Star cutting the horse down and Dullahan leaping on the man as he was thrown to the ground, leaving him to bleed his cut throat out on the dirt. At this point the Valmese Infantry, realizing their Cavalry was screwed, joined the fray, and I heard a soldier shout, “Hold the Fort, troops, hold until General Reider arriv-ack!” Despite the setbacks, we were in fine form. Huntaire cackled madly as he spun, Cursed Lance twirling and taking blood with each swipe, while Sola held his flank, her own Lance joining his in a deadly duet dance. Falcon and Edge were two lethal whirlwinds seemingly composed entirely of blades, while Klare and Star raged across the battleground, dropping soldiers left and right. Ishizu kept any troops from mounting the ramparts to provide ranged assaults as Orvar and Dullahan covered her. Over it all, Bard’s flute lent energy to our group as Dragun slew anyone foolish enough to make a try for the lad. Actually, Anya and I were pretty much the only two who were going solo like I’d planned for us all to do. Technically, Klare and Star were fighting on their own, but as sisters of course they’d keep an eye out for each other most of the time...er, Star would, anyways - when Klare went bloodlust, she kind of lost track of anything else. ...Speaking of...she was getting awfully far from the rest of us in her slaughter… Movement from the southeast, and our third problem struck. General Reider had arrived. And he’d brought a lot more Cavalry. Admittedly, given time to get into a close group, we probably still could have taken them and come out ahead. However, Klare was too far out to make it back to the rest of us in time, and alone even she would probably be overrun and brought down. There was also Sillva and Wyrm to consider - while both were powerful, I doubted the two of them could take this entire group without Wyrm going Dragon, and if it got out that a Demon Dragon had been spotted in Valm there was no chance they’d make the Dragon’s Gate. Bringing my focus back to the matter at hand, while also praying that Marita and anyone who ended up with her weren’t having as much difficulty as we were, I realized that two of our groups - the group of Ishizu, Orvar, and Dullahan and the semi-group of myself, Anya, and Star, who’d stayed as close to us as she could while keeping an eye on her sister - were way closer than I would have liked to the reinforcements that had arrived. Of us all, Ishizu’s group was closest, then Star, then myself, then Anya. It was then that disaster finally hit. I didn’t realize there were Bow Knights in Reider’s force until I saw shots being taken at Ishizu, currently their biggest obstacle due to the fact that she was single-handedly preventing an assault of any kind from Steiger’s ramparts. Orvar returned fire as best he could, but it was just him against at least a battalion’s worth of Bow Knights since Dullahan was guarding Ishizu against attacks from any Valmese Melee fighters. As Orvar released special move after special move to slow the enemy’s advance, a large group of Cavalry charged for Anya, who had made her way to about halfway between myself and Ishizu, trying to back her up more. Obviously, she was screwed, so I rushed the oncoming troops as well. Together, our experience fighting alongside one another meant we had a shot. Two soldiers found themselves toppling off their horses, clutching their bleeding throats, as I hit the ground in a roll and came up in time to block another soldier trying to get to Anya’s flank before spinning and taking half the leg off of the man’s poor horse. Said horse collapsed, bringing down another as it went, and the two forced some room for us due to the other horses being averse to trampling their comrades. “Took you long enough, little brother!” Ayra laughed, deflecting two blows before taking down another horseman. “What, you take time to relieve yourself first or something?” “Nah, I had to fix my hair,” I chuckled in response, removing two more horsemen from the fight. “Besides, I’ve gotta let you think you’re actually contributing, don’t I?” We spun around each other, blades flashing. Ten horsemen in our group left...seven...five...four… -Shhhhikt- The unmistakable sound of a blade piercing a body resonated through my mind - no, though the battlefield, as even the horsemen who had charged us seemed to pause and look back at their General, upon his horse, practically on top of Ishizu, Orvar, and Dullahan… It took me a moment to realize the tip of his Lance was sticking out of Star’s upper back. She fell back in slow motion as Reider tore his Lance back out of the center of her chest. Orvar caught her, sinking to his knees. And a single scream rang from the mouth of the fallen girl’s only family present - screaming her big sister’s True Name. “LARCEI!!!!!!” Klare went to run for her sister, stumbled, hit the ground on one knee, clutching her head with her free hand...shaking all over. Oh, no… The Bloodlust of the Sword Demon. The Holy Blood of the Crusader Od, still coursing powerfully through the veins of the youngest child of the first Heavens-Dancer. And now, the emotional trauma of watching one’s sister receive an unmistakably fatal blow. Larcei and Ulster had sheltered their baby sister as much as they could, to the point she’d never seen her parents’ bodies in the dark future from whence she and her siblings had come. The only bodies she had ever really seen were the Risen, who dissolved when you killed them, who didn’t collapse into their friends’ arms with a horrific stain of red slowly creeping down their dying flesh as they took a final ragged breath. They had never realized what it might do to her when she did see a real death. As I thought this, it happened. Her still young mind, unable to cope with the stress and trauma, shut down… ...Leaving only a body driven by rage. Klare’s head snapped up, her eyes unfocused but pained. A soldier attempted to run her through, and she stood and spun in one motion, sweeping her blade held in both hands and taking his head clean off as he ran by. “DESPAIR’S ANGUISH…” “HIT THE DIRT!!!” “BLOODLUST ASTRA!!!” Anya dove to the dirt as I went into as low a crouch as I could, and I could see Orvar cover Star’s body with his own as Klare...HOLY- Before my startled eyes, Klare did something only I could see as a SoulWeaver. Her Soul Thread split into five strands as she blurred and vanished from physical sight. Ten seconds later every man and horse who had been standing upright within 300 meters was dead. Those who had been riding said horses only had another two seconds to realize their mounts were no longer living before they joined them as their horses’ falling bodies put them into the line of fire. Five Klares reappeared surrounding Reider, the only enemy within the radius of death who was still alive, as he had rolled off his horse as I shouted for the others to hit the dirt and was protected from the onslaught by the unwitting beast. They were slightly blurry, vibrating from the might of her blood’s agitation. “...LARCEI…” Five blades were leveled at the Valmese General by five phantoms, eyes still unfocused and in pain. “...YOU...YOU…” “LONG LIVE EMPEROR WAL-” “YOU KILLED LARCEI!!” ...General Reider disappeared in a human-sized blender. Despite my experience with disturbing scenes, I very nearly lost my lunch, and I heard Anya gag, struggling to keep her own last meal down. A single bone, seemingly a femur, came hurtling out of the carnage, flipping end over end as it arced down to the earth. As it reached about stomach height, there was a flash of light, and the bone hit the ground in two- no, three- no, four pieces. Klare reappeared once more. In spite of the bloodbath, she had been moving so quickly only her blade showed any stain of the now-smoothied Valmese General. She swayed slightly in place, then a cry rang out and I spun, the bottom dropping out of my gut. Dragun was leaning heavily on Bard, her blade on the ground where she’d dropped it, dark violet blood dripping down her arm. “...MORE…” Klare saw them. “...I NEED...MORE BLOOD!!!” Two figures leapt up from the ground and rushed towards her, blades ready. Klare blurred again, just visible as she streaked towards the pair… And found her strike deflected as she came to a stop just past them. Falcon and Edge lost no time getting between Klare and Dragun and Bard again, both in stance, as she stared through them with still unfocused eyes. “THE URGE…” Klare blurred once more. “...FEAST, BLADE, FEEEAST!!!” Thus followed probably the most epic display of swordsmanship I would ever see - as Klare split and blurred yet again, Falcon and Edge held their ground, staying back-to-back, successfully parrying all strikes from five opponents moving faster than sight could track. Sparks from clashing blades leapt through the air around the swordsmen as they danced around each other, each knowing a movement even a single hairsbreadth off meant death for both - and yet they held. I took advantage of this to dash around the skirmish and reach Dragun and Bard. Bard looked terrified, holding Dragun up as best as his smaller frame would allow. “The first attack, I couldn’t...she…” Bard’s reflexes weren’t quick enough to get him to the ground in time. Dragun had realized this, and defended one side of him with a sweep of her great blade while protecting his other side with her own body. Three deep slashes oozed thick blood, still bearing the Dragontaint her mind had been freed from, down the back of her armor, but to my eternal gratitude it looked like she would live - her skin was much tougher than the average person’s due to the Taint, so the cuts were nowhere near as life-threatening as they would have been to any of the rest of us. I looked back to see the day’s last shock. Falcon’s twin blades crossed, sweeping upwards as they clashed with Klare’s weapon. The sword was sent spinning into the air as Edge spun, both hands together as he drove the hilts of his own blades into Klare’s face. At that speed, her head should have snapped off. As it was, she appeared to the naked eye again as she almost appeared to backflip, faceplanting unconscious. Falcon and Edge stood for a moment, still in the positions of their last strikes, then both sheathed their blades slowly as they walked to the unconscious girl. Falcon leaned down and lifted her in a Fireman’s Carry over his shoulder as Edge grabbed her weapon, which had landed blade-first into the soil, and pushed it down before pulling it up, the act wiping it clean as he flipped it to a reverse-grip hold. As they walked towards the battlefield’s edge, Falcon turned as an afterthought and spoke. “...Guess we ought to take spoils.”