The first line on the page glared up at him: 'The only name I have ever known is Nisha.' Simple though those words might be, they had haunted the Mad King ever since accidentally reading them; they were an invitation, a baited hook ready to ensnare him. And Gangrel took that bait now, ready to accept the consequences if it would just explain the madness all around him.
'The only name I have ever known is Nisha. I do not know who gave me that name. Was it my mother? My father? Did I give it to myself when I was old enough? I'll probably never know.
'My past is one big blank—I could have appeared on the face of the earth for all I can remember! But I have learned a few certain things about my childhood. 'First, I am a Plegian.'
Gangrel reread the sentence, just to be sure that his eyes had not deceived him. The ink did not mystically change its words, but he still read it a third time. Nisha—the great Ylissean tactician—a Plegian? Try as he might, he could not wrap his mind around it. Shrugging it off, he began to read again.
'Sadly, I do not know much about my ancestral homeland. I know statistics about trade, wealth, and population, but I do not understand the intricacies of the society, the relations of the people, the cultural history there.'
Oh, of course; she only has the typical surface understanding of all Ylisseans. Wonderful.
'But Plegia has been an enemy to Ylisse for so long that there is little to no chance of travelling into Plegia without hostility. After all, I am the tactician who brought about the deaths of both their king and high priest.'
Indeed. I'd be surprised if lynch mobs didn't form upon hearing her name.
'And speaking of the Grimleal high priest, there is another extremely important thing I've learned about myself: my parentage.'
How in the name of Grima are those two things related?
'My mother was a very brave woman, who risked death fleeing from Plegia with me when I was an infant. I know nothing more of her fate. My father, on the other hand, is none other than Lord Validar of the Grimleal.'
Gangrel's mind all but stopped upon reading the last sentence. The lost daughter, the girl that Validar had always gone on about...that was Nisha? The Mad King considered it, comparing the two in his mind.
If Nisha truly was Validar's daughter, she must have taken after her mother far more than her father. The only similarities between the High Grimleal Priest and the Ylissean tactician—that immediately came to mind—were the matching color of their hair and their narrow, upturned eyes. And even then, they looked absolutely nothing alike! But everything else added up: her age in comparison to when Validar's daughter disappeared, her abnormally pale skin, her skill with magic...Gangrel shoved the matter away from his mind. For the moment.
'I killed him. I killed my own father. And even though he is dead and gone, the world is in even greater danger than before.'
...and of course, it starts sounding less like a report, and more like a journal entry.
'Validar is my father. Through him, I inherited the Fellblood bloodline. But I am not just any Fellblood: I have the heart of Grima. Through me, the Fell Dragon could be reborn. And he was. My future self transformed herself into Grima. The danger the Fell Dragon poses to the world is all my fault. Chrom keeps telling me it's not. So does Stahl, and Lucina, and anyone else I try to talk to. Why can't they just let me feel guilty? Why do they refuse to consider my atonement?'
What atonement? And why is she still talking to that idiot boy?!
'And if the burdens of a torn tactician were not enough, there is an entire flipside to my life: my personal life.'
If this gets anymore bittersweet, I am going to vomit.
'I can't remember the last time I laughed, or even really smiled. I feel so alienated from the other Shepherds recently. I suppose the public knowledge of my heritage has its part...the largest part...I'm wandering. My mind seems to do that more than ever. Must be the lack of sleep. I can never seem to relax enough to rest these days. I've been on edge for a long time, but recently, it's become so much worse, just like my nightmares.'
She's not sleeping?! And what are these nightmares she's having?
Unfortunately, the entirety of the subsequent paragraph was scratched out. No, that was too gentle a verb: the entire paragraph had been obliterated with thick strokes of black ink, as though Nisha had been trying to bury the words, hide them from all eyes that might have seen them. The blocking out did its work well: not a single letter was visible, and Gangrel was forced to abandon the attempt and continue on to the next set of legible words.
'I suppose it's far too late to just stop and enjoy myself. But I do miss it. I miss talking with the girls at all hours, I miss my little misadventures with Donny, my lessons with Say'ri, and—perhaps most of all—I miss those snarky exchanges I used to have with Gangrel, back before it got...complicated.'
Complicated?! That's what she called it?! COMPLICATED?!
Oh, next time he saw her, words would be said!
Enraged, he contemplated destroying the page again. That last word was enough to deserve it! But there was still a third of a page covered in that insufferably neat handwriting, and the penultimate paragraph was written in a wild whirl of letters that was quite unusual for the perfect tactician. Finally, his curiosity won out over his anger and he reluctantly returned his gaze to the paper.
'Is it strange to long for somebody when that person has turned into someone entirely different? I pray it's just all stress, and my stupid blundering can be fixed.'
A sudden blow of shock snuffed out the hatred as quickly as it had arisen. Blundering? Nisha thought it was her fault everything had fallen apart?
Part of him was satisfied: good, she's gotten what she deserves now, was the central thought there. Another part felt immense guilt for allowing her to feel in any such way. And the smallest part of him...the smallest part wanted to run straight to the tactician's tent, take her into his arms and say that he wanted everything to go back to the way it was, that he couldn't stand the distance between them. His thoughts, split into these three factions, fought against themselves for a solid ten minutes before they were shut away with some difficulty into the back of his mind, with all his other mixed thoughts and feelings.
'I'm rambling again. But it feels good. Feels good to take a little weight off my shoulders and put it onto paper. My heart is still quite heavy, but just the tiniest bit less so. I just wish I could talk out loud like this, have someone else to share the burden with instead of just releasing to empty air or paper. But if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. I should be glad with what I have, and not wishing for more; that would be selfish of me, and a tactician cannot afford to be selfish.'
Ah there it is: the script of the Ylissean tactician.
But even as that thought crossed his mind, something else caught his attention. It was small and obstructed by a thick line crossing it out, but after a few seconds' observation, the trickster realized it was an afterthought. It was difficult to decipher the half-visible curves of messy letters, but Gangrel managed.
'Sometimes I wish I could.'
And that was it. Just a very un-Ylissean desire declared in bold writing. If the words had been written by any other Shepherd, he would have laughed at the irony. But Nisha wasn't just any Shepherd: she had Plegian blood, if these words were to be believed.
If I have to refocus one more time, my head is going to explode, the Mad King thought wryly as he—once again—tossed his personal feelings and impressions aside to reflect upon later.
The last section of writing was only a single line at the bottom of the page, the flawless script returning from its brief sojourn in the preceding paragraph. As he read it, Gangrel could clearly see the broken smile the tactician had no doubt made as she penned those last words:
'Gods above, I really am a mess, aren't I?'
Not nearly as much as I am, Nisha. Not even close.
The sunshine reflected off the pristine snow, blinding all with a brilliant light. Gangrel didn't know what had possessed him to come outside, but here he was, sitting on the frozen ground, Nisha's letter in his hands.
He thought about the words she had written as he turned the folded paper over and over again in his fingers. It was almost too much to take in: she was Plegian, Validar's long-lost daughter, the reason Grima had returned to the world, and—perhaps most surprisingly—she missed him. Nisha missed his company. He didn't know whether to be happy or smug about it, and simply gave up trying to feel only one and let both emotions run their course.
If Nisha missed him, then there was only one thing that could mean: she still cared. Despite everything that had gone on between them for the last month—had it really only been that long since they last had a proper conversation?—she still thought of him and worried about him.
Of course she does, the cynical part of his mind told him snidely. She's the tactician, isn't she? It's her job to care for everyone. Don't go misinterpreting her intentions now.
But Gangrel couldn't forget the hurt he'd seen in her eyes when Aversa had kissed him in the bar that night, so many weeks ago. If he was just another soldier, why would she respond in such a way? There had to be something more.
And what if there's not?
"Shut up," he growled at the voice. It fell silent, but the doubts it brought did not fade away. Gangrel sighed, a white cloud drifting away in the chilly morning air.
There was one way to know for certain. And he did not want to do it. But then again, what choice did he have? Exhaling heavily again, the Mad King got to his feet, regretting his decision to sit in the snow. Note in hand, he walked back to his tent, mentally preparing himself for what he was about to do.
Gangrel stood uncertainty before the tent. There had been no answer to his calls, and he considered for a moment whether it would be better to just walk away.
No, he thought. No running.
Slowly, the trickster raised the tent flap and peered inside. It was empty. Entering, he approached the neatly made sleeping pallet, trying to keep his thoughts on track, refusing to let other, irrelevant thoughts distract him.
Taking the half-folded blanket from over his arm, Gangrel did his best to straighten his clumsy creases. He gave up after a few fruitless minutes and carefully placed the bundle of fabric atop the smooth blankets of the sleeping pallet.
"What are you doing?"
The voice came suddenly, and the trickster reacted instinctively, leaping to his feet and quickly stepping away from the scene of the crime.
Nisha stood in the doorway of her tent, her head tilted a little to the side. The pale morning light enhanced the whiteness of her skin, turning it ivory. The Mad King found himself quite unable to speak, paralyzed by her very presence. And then he realized that he was staring.
"I was just returning your blanket," he replied lamely, pointing at the lump of fabric, wishing for all the world that he could just disappear, vanish from off the face of the earth.
"Oh, I see...thank you."
Surprise colored her tone. Gangrel did not dare look at her, afraid he would stare again, be captivated by her beauty. The awkward silence drew on and on, neither one certain what to say.
"Do...do you need something else?" Nisha asked tentatively. The trickster shook his head, rushing towards the tent flap as the tactician stepped deeper into the tent. And then, as he took the fabric in his hand, an idea struck him.
"Actually, tactician, I do need something from you." Nisha tilted her head again, silently giving permission for him to continue. Gangrel swallowed.
"I need you to tell me how to fix something. A...relationship."
Nisha's eyebrows shot upwards; she looked quite taken aback. Gangrel swallowed again.
"I said and did things that shouldn't have been said or done," he told her, staring hard at the snowy ground. "And...it was entirely my fault that the relationship fell apart that way. But I...I blamed the other person instead."
He dared glance up and saw Nisha's expression had changed, but he almost immediately dropped his gaze again, afraid that it might be anger in her face.
"The...other person...recently expressed what they were going through as a result of our...falling out, and...well, what I need, tactician, is advice. How do I tell them that I'm sorry and...and..."
His tongue refused to let go of the words—his pride stung at the mere thought of them—but he had to say it. Finally raising his head, Gangrel stared into those bottomless black eyes, felt the words slip out of his mouth effortlessly:
"...and that I want to start over? That I want to try again?"
There was a pregnant pause. The Mad King had to resist the urge to fidget. He kept his scarlet eyes locked onto hers, not reading the emotions written there, just watching, waiting.
Nisha blinked, seeming to come out of a trance, and her expression became ponderous.
"Well," she said slowly, "A face-to-face meeting is a good place to start. This afternoon, right after rooms are settled at Fort Ferox, that would be a good time. And as for starting over, I think spending some time learning more about this person is the best way to form—or in your case, reform—a relationship."
Another long pause. Gangrel watched her quietly, waiting for something more, but none came. He inclined his head to her, in a small bow. As he turned to leave, he heard his name.
He twisted back around to see the tactician chewing her lip uncertainty. Then, inhaling so deeply he could see her her shoulders rise and fall, she continued.
"My room. Fort Ferox. This afternoon. Got it?"It took a moment, but he did. He nodded again and exited through the tent flap, greeted by a blast of chilly wind. Oddly enough, though he walked through ankle-deep snow, he couldn't feel the cold.