The Shepherds' camp on Origin Peak was certainly very lively that evening. Families joked, friends argued playfully, and the occasional couple would disappear for a short while before returning to the large fire that had been set up in the center of the tents. As the sun sank and the campfire rose in height and size, the whole army gathered together, seated before the flames. As usual, Nisha was at the head of the group, Morgan at her side talking to Lucina. Gangrel hung back near the tents; he had no place with those Ylisseans.
"What are you doing waiting around here?"
The Mad King scowled as Stahl stepped into view, the brunette grinning from ear to ear.
"I have no intention to join that farewell party," Gangrel replied coldly. "Ylissean hypocrites. They aspire to kill a godlike dragon, claim their confidence in their own ability to do so, and spend the evening trying to make it just right so they can die without any regrets."
"That's not hypocritical," the Paladin protested. "It’s practical: we've embraced the possibility of the deaths that might happen tomorrow. You can't tell me that if you knew today was the last day you ever saw Nisha that you wouldn't do everything you could to have a good time."
Gangrel shot Stahl a frosty look, which was returned with another beaming smile. As the younger man returned to his wife and daughter, the trickster rubbed his forehead wearily.
...he hated it when someone else had a point he couldn't argue with.
Seating himself so his back faced the rest of the Shepherds in the circle, the Mad King reached out to touch his lover's hand. Nisha glanced away from her conversation with Say'ri and let loose a smile.
"What's with the sour face?" she asked, tilting her head a little. Gangrel shrugged, tightening his grip on her hand, deciding to keep his peace on that matter; she didn't need to know he'd been persuaded by Stahl of all people.
"Nice of you to join us, Father!" Morgan chirped from his other side. Gangrel turned to look at his son, pausing as Lucina met his eye. They evaluated one another for a long moment.
"Gangrel," the future princess said finally.
"Lucy," he replied, keeping his expression serious, testing her reaction.
The blunette's face tightened in a mixture of both annoyance and rage, but she didn't say a word. Instead, she narrowed her branded eyes at the trickster and returned her attention to his son. The older Plegian continued to watch her and noticed that Lucina would glance at him every once so often, as if checking to make sure he wasn't up to something. Yet every time she looked at Morgan...Gangrel wasn't sure why, but he disliked the way she seemed so riveted on him.
"Pardon me, Gangrel." The trickster started at the sound of his name, turning to see that Say'ri was looking at him. "Nisha says our chances of victory on the morrow is all but certain, yet I cannot help but fear that she exaggerates."
"I really do think we'll win, Say'ri," Nisha protested. "The odds are in our favor."
"All the same, I want his opinion," the Chon'sin princess pressed.
"Why ask me?" Gangrel inquired boredly. "Why not that brother of yours?"
"You speak the truth, especially if it is not wanted."
"Why, thank you for the generous compliment," the Mad King drawled, grinning wickedly. The tactician shot him a look, but he merely rolled his eyes at her. "You want the brutal truth? I think we're all dead. True, there is a chance for success, but I doubt we'll make it; a quick bloody end was the whole reason I signed up for this whole save-the-world expedition after all."
"So it would seem you are in opposition with the entire rest of this army," Say'ri noted. "Most intriguing. Do you have no faith in our ability to fight?"
"The Shepherds can fight risen or other nations, but against the Fell Dragon? There's a reason Grima is worshipped like a god."
"I see," the Eastern swordsmaster said softly. "You have given me a great deal to think about, Mad King of Plegia."
And with that parting statement, Say'ri rose to her feet and left the campfire, her expression blank. Gangrel snorted and glanced back at Morgan only to see that both he and Lucina had vanished as well.
"Do you really believe that?" Nisha asked, her voice hardly more than a whisper. "That we're all going to die tomorrow?"
The trickster tightened his grip of her hand.
"She asked for the truth," he replied flatly. He didn't dare look at her; he knew her opinion on the matter already.
The tactician gently turned his face so she could see him better, her gaze searching. Gangrel kept his eyes firmly upon hers, refusing to break the contact.
"Why?" she whispered. "Why are you so different when you're around the others?"
"You know why," he replied, his voice equally soft. Nisha bowed her head a little, now watching their entwined hands. The trickster leaned forward, speaking softly into her ear.
"As much as I wish I could tell you I didn't believe what I do—"
"Father! Mother! Look!"
Their conversation abruptly cut off, the couple both automatically turned to face the young thief. Except...he wasn't...
"What are you wearing?" Gangrel asked without thinking. Morgan looked down at himself.
"Um, clothes I'd assume?" the boy said back clearly confused .
It was a bit more than that: instead of his usual thief's garb, Morgan was dressed in a long, dark purple cloak that was uncannily like Nisha's. True there were more gold patterns along the sleeves, but other than that...
"Did you seriously choose to become a Grandmaster on the eve of the battle?" Nisha asked incredulously.
"I've trained as a tactician," Morgan protested. "It's been my dream to be strong enough to make it to this level."
"Doesn't make it any less stupid," the Mad King added dryly and Nisha bit her lip. He could see his dark-haired lover giving in to the weak argument and he could understand: as he'd said, the chances of death were high. Tonight was a night for goodbyes and fulfillment of whatever wishes could be granted.
"Do you think I look like Mother in this cloak?" the new grandmaster asked his father. The trickster rolled his eyes.
"Of course," he replied mockingly. "I'm just feeling a little betrayed, but it's no big matter. And the color clashes with your hair."
Morgan frowned and Nisha smacked her fiancé on the side of the head.
"How rude!" she exclaimed, her grin a contradiction to her scandalized tone. "I think it's quite flattering on him."
"You would think that, seeing as he takes after you," he shot back with equal verve, not missing a beat. "Can a father want anything more from his son than to be in his image?"
The tactician doubled over laughing. Morgan looked completely bewildered, but he joined in the humor as well after some hesitation. The Mad King allowed himself a small smile. He caught Chrom watching and raised his eyebrows, daring the princeling to say something. The Exalt just shook his head and returned his attention to his own wife and children.
"You know, Father," Morgan said abruptly, a mischievous grin sliding up his face, "I wonder what you would look like in purple."
"You wouldn't dare," Gangrel growled, shifting so he could rise at a moment's notice. The boy's smile grew as he turned and ran back into the camp.
"Oh no you don't!"
Nisha laughed again as the Mad King charged after her son, hollering threats of all kinds. She was glad to have this evening with the two men in her life, even if the tension was clearly weighing on them. It was good to spend time with them, even if it was for only one night more.
Unbeknownst to her, however, Gangrel was not content with spending just the evening together.
Of all the times he had broken or bent the rules, this was by far the worst. There had to be about twenty violations in this single act alone! But he couldn't relax, couldn't convince himself to fall asleep.
This part of the camp had always been reserved for the women and under no circumstances was a man permitted. But that was only if he were to be caught and in any case, the women did the opposite all the time without any consequences.
It was very late, and, despite having retired to an early bed as ordered, the Mad King just couldn't rest; his mind was driving him crazy. He wanted so badly just to talk with somebody, to unload his weighty thoughts. His tentmate, however, was not one for conversation. In fact, Yen'fay had been asleep by the time Gangrel had come in! So the trickster simply lay there on his bedroll with his eyes shut, doing all he could to relax. Except he couldn't.
When he could no longer bear to remain in his tent, the Plegian had stalked outside to calm his nerves that had frayed with frustration. The cool wind that teased through his red hair and thin black shirt had helped calm his rising temper a little, as did the walking, even if the uneven ground scuffed his bare feet. It was then he had looked at the rows of silent tents and half-dead campfires and noticed a light coming from the other side of camp. And he knew exactly where it was coming from: the tactician's tent. Nisha must still be awake.
It was then that Gangrel made a very spontaneous decision.
Never before had the Mad King been so grateful for his skill at moving unseen, born from years of practice. Sully, polishing her armor and chatting with Sumia, looked directly at him, but didn't even notice him in the shadows. He had stayed perfectly still until the lonely pair had gotten up and gone to their own tents—which they would more than likely abandon for the company of their husbands before long.
The tactician's tent was on the edge of the forbidden area, but it was also in the very middle, surrounded by other tens on all sides. That made it difficult to reach without being seen, but not impossible. Especially this late at night.
It took a lot of patience and caution, but after almost ten agonizingly slow minutes, the trickster was finally close enough. He paused a moment, checking for anyone who might be coming his way, though he didn't think anyone else was awake. Then the trickster slipped inside the lit tent.
It didn't take long to find the tactician in the small space, but when he did, he could do nothing but sigh and shake his head. Nisha was asleep, but not in the right place.
She was dressed as if she were ready to go to bed, yet she lay slumped over her desk, atop a sketch filled with diagrams and words scrawled in shorthand. Her long cloak was draped carelessly across her shoulders, shifting as she breathed. It looked as though someone had come in to put it there, leaving the deep purple fabric as a replacement blanket of sorts. Gangrel rolled his eyes as he wrapped an arm around her waist and stood her up so he could move her to the bedroll. The tactician leaned heavily against him, exhaling softly. Her cloak fell from her body as he gently laid her down and the trickster could have sworn a faint smile crossed her face when her head hit the pillow.
Gods Nisha, why are you so beautiful? Gangrel thought wistfully, tracing the curve of her cheek with a single finger. She didn't answer him and he just sat there for a minute, treasuring the feel of her smooth skin.
A sudden exhaustion hit him full force as he took up her cloak again and covered her with it. No longer caring if he were caught, Gangrel laid beside her, his eyes roving up and down her prone form. Taken by sudden desire, the Mad King slid his hands under her cloak and pulled the sleeping woman into his arms, her head resting against his chest.
The warmth of her body—alongside the feeling of her chest rising and falling against his own—was soothing. This was the comfort he'd been lacking back on his own bedroll. This is what he had been truly yearning for.
Gangrel pulled his beloved tactician closer in his embrace. Tonight, he had no intention of letting her go.
Nisha came into consciousness slowly, wondering why she was so comfortable. Hadn't she been at her desk? It certainly wasn't wood she was pressed up against. The dark-haired tactician cracked her eyes open and froze. There was someone else here. In her bedroll.
Instinctively, she tried to move away from whoever it was, but found that she was caught in their tight embrace. It seemed they were fast asleep, as the only reaction to her movement was a faint sound made deep in their throat. Nisha twisted her neck so she could look up at the intruder to her tent and felt her eyes go wide.
"Gangrel," she breathed, the name slipping out without her realizing it. Her cheeks flushed with vivid color.
Oh gods. They were in so much trouble.
The tactician tried again to free herself from her fiancé, but only ended up pulled tighter against him. She rolled her eyes. Of course Gangrel would sneak into her tent tonight of all nights. For him, it was the very last night they would have together unless proven otherwise tomorrow. But it still didn't change that he shouldn't be there in the first place! They weren't married yet!
Nisha gave another fruitless struggle before she sighed in exasperation. There was no way she was getting out of this one without waking him up, and loathe as she was to admit it, she knew they both needed plenty of rest for the battle. She herself was behind on sleep as it was.
Why are you so difficult? the dark-haired woman thought wryly, freeing her arm enough that she could trace the contours of Gangrel's face with her fingertips. She paused, lingering on his lips before she dropped her hand, red-cheeked again, and settled against him once again. She could hear his heartbeat in her position. The thought that the pulse under her ear could cease in a handful of hours brought tears into her eyes.
"I love you," she whispered against his shirt. "I hope you know that."
Almost as if in response, Gangrel's grip tightened around her back in a soft squeeze. It didn't take long for the smaller woman to fall asleep in the Mad King's arms.
Light. There was light. And it was irritating. Gangrel groaned and squinted his already closed eyes to try blocking it out. True, it wasn't as bright as it could have been, but it was still interrupting his sleep.
But, as it always happened, he lost the battle of wills with the gleaming sunlight and slowly opened his eyes to behold Nisha pressed against his chest. He had dreamt of her all night, of what their life could have been if there were not a deadline hanging over their heads like an executioner's axe. To say those visions had been enjoyable would have been a sore understatement: it had been as close to ecstasy he could ever remember being. But the daylight shining against Nisha's pale skin was also a reminder that his time with her was up.
Gangrel had never been a huge fan of darkness, but right now it was all he wanted. Just a few minutes more...
It was with great reluctance that the Mad King released his beloved and stood to leave. He resisted the urge to turn back around and catch a final glimpse, wanting his final memory of the tactician to be of her in his arms.
The camp seemed sleepy, hardly anyone out and moving yet. Gangrel turned away from the tents and instead strode up one of the many hills on the island. He was was facing East, where the sun was inching farther up the horizon. He sat on the grass, looking up to where the Fell Dragon flew high above the mountains. Hours, that's what they had left.
The soft voice of the former Exalt reached his ears and the trickster turned to see Emmeryn standing at the peak of the hill, already dressed and with staff in hand. The golden light of the sunrise complimented her greatly.
"Morning yourself, your Radiance," he replied. "What brings you so far from your brother?"
"I saw you," she said. "L-leaving the...tent. What you...you did last-last night..."
So he hadn't gone unseen. Well, it hardly mattered now.
"If you've come to tell me off, you're speaking to deaf ears," he shot back. "Can't I just have one moment where someone isn't telling me what I've done is wrong? Gods..."
"I wasn't..." Emmeryn protested. "W-wanted to say...it...was k-kind of you. A-and...s-she needed the c-comfort. So th-thank you."
The trickster turned his gaze away, glaring at the sun as is drew ever closer to Grima's place in the sky.
"Please tell me I'm wrong," he murmured. "Please tell me that the Ylisseans honestly believe we'll win—that any of us will walk away from today."
He was answered with silence. Sighing, the Mad King got to his feet.
"That's what I thought."
The red-haired Plegian strode past the lovely Ylissean, whose face had changed from gentle happiness to an equally soft sorrow. He paused as a gust of wind blew from behind him, trying to push him over the grassy crest of the earth.The time had come. The End of it all.