Return to the Village
Sooooo. Inspiration strikes. And writing will not be denied.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Faye had been surprised the first time she saw her.
Still, not that surprised.
The idea that there were many different versions of her and the people she had known and fought alongside... well, she had been introduced to it very shortly after being summoned to the kingdom of Askr and being asked to help fight in their war against the Emblian Empire. It was a truth that she had grown to accept.
So she supposed it wasn't so surprising that there was at least one timeline, one world, where Celica had succumbed to Duma—and remained that way.
There had been shocked murmurs all across the place. It hadn't been the first time the Summoner had called forth people of questionable morals or character – but there was being a bitter misanthrope or a self-interested jerk, and there was being a shell of a person, a fragmented soul held together only by the will of an insane god.
And inevitably, murmurs had given way to cries of outrage. Almost instantly there had been people stepping forward to demand an explanation, others yelling that she should be cut down where she stood, yet others saying that she deserved a chance to prove herself.
She had seen Alm, face contorted in fury and outrage as he stormed towards the Summoner, only barely held back in time by Gray and Celica.
There had been a time where she would have moved to back him up—almost automatically, almost on instinct. No matter his stance, if it was Alm's view, then surely it would have merit.
Now, she quietly leaned her bow against the nearby pillar, and looked silently at the woman standing there on the altar, as all around her came the dull roar of bewildered people talking over each other.
She turned at the sound of her name being called, and her eyes widened. She had just been called to Askr less than a day ago, and it was bewildering, being in a strange land with people she knew nothing about.
Now, all of a sudden there was a familiar face, and a welcome one.
"Alm!" she blurted out.
"Faye!" He smiled at her, the same open, confident smile she knew so well. "I didn't think I'd run into you here! Did you just arrive?"
"Yes!" She quickened her pace, hurrying up to him. "Just a day ago, in fact! I wasn't even sure I really wanted to stay, but I..." She paused. Blinked. And frowned. "I..."
Suddenly self-conscious, Alm glanced down at himself, unintentionally confirming what Faye had suspected as she'd approached him."Is... something wrong?"
She shook her head once and let out a resigned sigh. "You're not my Alm."
That was perhaps putting it a bit more bluntly than necessary, but disappointment had a way of making softer words give way to harsher ones.
"My Alm – I mean, the Alm I know..." She had a brief moment of disorientation—the idea of referring to Alm is a possessive way wasn't something she was used to—but she shook it off as she reached out a hand, almost close enough to brush it against Alm's forehead. "He had a scar here. Just beside his eyebrow. So... you're not him."
Of course, that had just been the final, most obvious piece of evidence. Even during her brief conversation with him Faye couldn't help but feel strange, as if something wasn't quite right, just slightly out of sync. A part of her wondered if she would have noticed at all, had it been someone else, and not Alm.
"Oh... I'm sorry then. I shouldn't have assumed."
"It's fine, don't worry about it." She managed a smile and shrug. "They already warned us this might happen, didn't they?"
The Summoner had told her about it, shortly after she had been summoned. That his summoning wasn't a science, and that it was possible the people he called could come from different times, different worlds. It was even possible that he might accidentally summon two of the same person.
And indeed, as the days in the Askr kingdom went by, it became apparent that the people who were stayingin it had been through myriad different experiences and encounters.
Sir Clive had furrowed his brow and scratched his head, before admitting that he didn't know anyone who went by Faye—certainly not anyone who had fought alongside Sir Alm, at least.
A cleric with pink, curly hair had run up to her, greeting her like an old friend, and Faye had been forced to tell her, somewhat sheepishly, that she had no idea who she was.
Tobin had been there too, but wielding a sword, while the Tobin she knew had devoted himself to the bow.
And, of course...
"So, no shortage of different worlds to be summoned from, huh?" Gray chuckled as he bit into an apple. He chewed thoughtfully for a moment, before swallowing and wiping the juices from his chin. "Different times, too."
"Tell me about it." Faye had snorted as she settled herself beside Gray on the bench. "The Celica we've got walking around seems to think it's still important she try to hide her Brand. As if we didn't already know she's the Princess." Queen, now, really. At least, in the world Faye had come from.
Gray chuckled before inclining his neck so he could look at her. "Well, as far as I can tell you're identical to the Faye I know... but odds are I'm not actually the same Gray as from your world."
She didn't reply for a long moment, choosing instead to stare up at the brilliant blue of the Askran sky. She uncorked her water-skin and took a long swig of it, before shaking her head as she lowered it again.
"No," she finally said. "Probably not."
"Still, it's nice to see a familiar face, even if it's technically new. And hey, it's good to know we'd get along anyway!" He grinned at her and offered his free hand. "So... friends?"
Faye hesitated for a moment, then smiled and nodded once. She reached out, grasped Gray's hand in her own.
"Friends," she said.
It was only then that she made her decision. She didn't know anything about the Kingdom of Askr or the Emblian Empire, save that the former seemed a pleasant enough place to live. She had no taste for fighting, or war. She never had.
But if people she'd called her friends were here, fighting for Askr's sake...
Maybe it would be okay for her to stay awhile longer, and to fight alongside them, just once more.
After all, the only alternative would be for her to return to the village.
The debate about what to do with Celica—the possessed Celica, not the one that remained free—had raged long and loud, but finally the decision had been made; she would remain, and fight under the banner of the Order of Heroes. The Summoner had announced it, with Anna, Alfonse and Sharena all backing him up.
Well, Faye had expected as much. When it came down to it Askr needed all the manpower they could get – and as long as the Breida-whatever weapon that the Summoner used remained at his side, odds of Celica turning against them were slim.
Of course, many of the gathered fighters hadn't been happy to hear that news. When the announcement had been made, Alm had stormed off and disappeared for the rest of the day. She could remember Gray and Tobin trading uncomfortable glances, unsure if it was their place to speak up. Celica had stared at her shadowy double for a long moment, a thousand unasked questions on her lips before she'd swallowed them and departed quietly.
For her own part, Celica seemed content with the opportunity to remain here and to fight for Askr. "I am Lord Duma's faithful servant," she had said. "If it is his will that I join with you and crush those whom you call enemies, so be it."
All in all, Celica joining them hadn't gotten much of a reaction from Faye beyond a weary shake of her head.
The Summoner's decision to have Faye and Celica fight and stay together, on the other hand...
"Explain." She kept her arms folded as she stared daggers at him. The Summoner had the good graces to look uncomfortable as he shrugged and spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness.
"Okay, look... Celica's... well, she's not going to betray us or anything. But she's still not the most... stable? Let's go with stable. She's not the most stable recruit we've had."
It was a feeble attempt at levity, and Faye didn't bother to acknowledge it. After a moment, the Summoner's shoulders slumped.
"So, I'm not sure how much you know about it, but she ended up being possessed or corrupted by something. A god from her world, or something like that? I'm honestly not sure how much of her old self is left in there, but at any rate it seems like she barely remembers anything about what happened before... before she was called here.
"Point is, for the sake of her well-being—both mental and physical—I think it'd be good for her to fight alongside someone she's familiar with. At least, for the time being."
"I don't know Celica all that well," after all, they'd only known each other back when they were kids, and not for very long, at that. After that had been only a couple of short meetings, during the celebrations at the end of the war, "and... I don't think Celica knows me either. At least, not anymore."
They had seen each other only once, since the day she had been summoned. They had passed each other in the halls, and Celica had looked at her, and there had been no spark of recognition in her eyes.
"Well, it's better than nothing."
"You have others. Like that cleric. Genny, was it? She's Celica's friend, isn't she? And that mercenary with the eyepatch. They've fought alongside her before."
"Well, yes, they're a lot closer to her. Maybe... a little too close." One hand reached up to massage the side of his still-hooded head. "Look, most of them don't want Celica here in the first place. Seeing her like this is really painful for them. I'm trying to look after Celica... but I don't want to do it at the other's expense."
A pause and the Summoner shifted, apparently remembering Alm and his reaction. "Any more than I absolutely have to, I mean. And, well, as far as I can tell... of all the ones that knew her, you're taking her presence the best."
Faye couldn't help it. She laughed, and that sound felt harsh in her throat. "So I'm the best candidate because I don't care enough."
"... I didn't say that."
"You didn't need to." She shook her head once and turned to leave. "Don't expect any miracles from me, Kiran."
"So..." and Faye paused, already halfway through the doorway of the study, "you'll still do it right?"
She turned, looked over her shoulder and aimed a glare at the Summoner.
"Of course." The sarcasm in her voice was thick. "Anything for the Order of Heroes."
Fighting alongside Celica proved surprisingly less awkward than she had expected it to be.
On the battlefield, Celica was straightforward and ruthless to the point of simplicity. If there was a target, she would pursue it and strike it down, without mercy. Faye's job in those cases was mostly to provide support and covering fire.
"All is for Lord Duma's sake," Celica would proclaim as she stared down at her slain foes.
But aside from an intensity that bordered on unnatural (was there anything about her situation that could be considered natural, anyway?), having Celica as a battle partner wasn't terribly unlike fighting alongside anyone else from the army. Faye had never been much for idle talk on the battlefield, not even when her smiles had come easily and her steps had been lighter.
So in that regard, not much had changed.
Off the battlefield, however...
"Why do you insist on following me around?" Celica' asked as she aimed a fiery glare at Faye. "Leave me be."
Faye looked into Celica's eyes, keeping her own gaze steady. They were red as always, but now they blazed with an unnatural intensity that made her stare even more piercing. As if she could see straight through Faye, pick her apart, skin, muscle, and bone, with nothing but a look.
She considered telling her that it was the Summoner who wanted her to be with Celica and help her acclimatize to her situation. But then, given what little she knew of Duma's philosophy, it seemed unlikely that Celica would take such a statement well.
So instead she shrugged. "Well, we're partners, aren't we? We should probably look out for each other."
We were friends, once. Once again that didn't seem like a terribly fruitful line of discussion so Faye silenced the thought before it found its way to her mouth.
"Partners." The way Celica said it made it sound like something dirty. "Companions? I don't need such things. All I am... All I need, is power. For I am... I am Lord Duma's faithful servant!"
Faye pursed her lips and resisted the urge to say something that would only make her life more difficult in the future.
"I'm sure you are," was all she said instead.
"You understand? Good. Then, as I said, leave me be."
Something about the whole situation seemed vaguely familiar to Faye, except in reverse, and she resisted the urge to shake her head. How long ago had it been that she'd turned down offers of companionship, preferring to devote all her attention and energy to Alm?
And now here she was, on the other side of the problem. And, well, Faye had to admit that she wasn't very good at being social with people who wanted to be friends, nevermind someone who was actively pushing her away.
In that case, Faye decided, it was probably better that she not do anything to upset Celica further, and so she sighed.
"Well, if you feel you need any help with anything, let me know."
And turning on her heel, Faye turned and strode down the corridor.
When she risked a glance back over her shoulder, she could see that Celica had not moved from her spot, and that she seemed to simply be staring off into space, at a sight only she could see.
The Summoner's plan to have Faye stick with Celica had also included reassigning living arrangements so that the two of them now shared a room.
Well, Faye had to admit that it wasn't a big problem in and of itself. Her previous roommate had been a young knight from another world. With little shared history between them, Faye hadn't gotten to know Amelia very well at all so there was little more than mutual goodbyes and well-wishes before packing up and moving to her new quarters.
Still, while Faye wasn't much for small talk, it was still awkward to have evenings filled with nothing but silence. The first time Celica had turned in for the night, Faye had almost wondered if she would spend some time saying prayers to Duma or anything like that.
But instead Celica had simply flopped down onto her cot and went straight to sleep.
Faye had let out a not-quite sigh, snuffed the lights, and went to bed herself.
And so it went. Faye would be finishing up her affairs for the day when Celica entered, and she would sit and stare at nothing for a while. Then on an unspoken agreement the two of them would turn in for the night at the same time.
That routine continued uninterrupted for four nights.
On the fifth night, after both of them had went to sleep, Faye awoke to a muffled cry.
"Alm! Do it! … Kill me, now!"
Celica? Sitting up in bed, Faye threw off the thin blanket, and turned to the room's other occupant.
"Please! Before I... lose... control... to Duma!"
In the dim glow of the half-moon, Faye could see that Celica's eyes were still shut, even as she spoke in her apparent distress.
A dream? She almost reached out to shake Celica awake, but drew her hand back at the last second. What was she...?
And then, "No! Alm! ALM! Why would you... why... WHY?" The last note was all but a wail, hideously loud in what had been the quiet of the room, and Faye nearly clapped her hand over her ears.
"Celica!" she said instead as she clambered out of the bed. "Celica, wake up!"
"Ah!" Her eyes snapped open, and Faye could see her eyes darting left and right as she took in the surroundings. Her head shifted, until she seemed to notice that she was not alone in the room, and her gaze zeroed in on Faye.
"Where...?" Her voice was quavering. Uncertain. So unlike the forceful way that Faye was used to hearing her speak.
"You're in Askr. Remember?" she said as she settled herself down on her own cot. "...You were having a bad dream of some kind."
"I was?" Celica sat up, looked around her and then down at her hands. "I... what was I dreaming about? It's all... so foggy."
"It sounded like you were unhappy about something," Faye kept her voice soft. A part of her was telling her that pressing Celica about this would likely be a bad idea, but she pushed on anyway."About your possession by Lord Duma."
Instantly Celica's eyes grew hard, a spark of fury igniting in them. "Silence! It was Lord Duma's blessings that allowed me to be reborn as something greater! I am proud to be one of Duma's most loyal servants!"
Faye did not respond as she lowered her gaze to the floor, and the silver moonlight splashed across it.
After the silence had stretched on for an interminable moment, Celica spoke again.
"Do not question my loyalty to my Lord, ever again. I will not forgive such heresy, a second time."
Again, silence. Faye did not raise her gaze to meet Celica's.
After a long moment, Celica lay down again, before rolling over on her side.
She continued to sit there, although now she lifted her head, staring out the window at the moon the shone above.
Finally, Faye closed her eyes, shook her head, and sank back onto her bed.
"Faye? Am I interrupting anything?"
She turned at the sound of the question and saw Celica standing there, a hesitant smile on her face.
"No, I just wanted to get some archery practice in. It can wait. What is it?"
"Oh, it's nothing major. It's just..." Celica's smile turned brittle, and after a moment she lowered her gaze. "You've been staying alongside that... other me lately, have you not?"
"Yeah... Kiran asked me to help her out. At least for a while." She shrugged. "I mean, I guess it has to come as more than a bit of a shock to see yourself, just... so different."
"Yes, I can't say I like the current situation with her at all." For a moment, her gaze grew hooded. "But I wanted to ask about you. Please, forgive me if I am overstepping my bounds, but... you don't seem all that perturbed by the situation. I suppose that's why the Summoner asked you to be with her?"
And now Faye found it was her gaze that travelled to the floor. "Yeah, I guess. It's probably not a good quality to have in most situations, anyway." Was I more excitable, more emotional before? Sometimes it's hard to remember.
"Yes, I mean..." Celica drew in a deep breath. "You're older, aren't you?"
"I mean... older than the Faye I know. She's a lot like you, just..." Celica bit her lip.
"Happier? Less bitter?" Faye supplied the words, and let out a laugh. "Well good for the other me, then. If you can, try not to let her smile get worn down, okay?"
"Yes, I know. My friends and I were still on our way to Mila's Temple when I was summoned here. And yet, so many of the friends I know here... they speak of the war with Rigel as if it were already past. And Alm, too."
Faye had seen the two of them more than once, talking. It was an awkward situation, certainly. They were still in love – at least, with the selves from their own worlds and times, but Alm had already slain Duma and ended the war, while Celica was still halfway through her journey, still fighting her own battles. So the two had accepted their differences and stayed apart, at least as long as they remained here.
"Well, I guess I'm part of that group." Faye nodded. "It's already been a few years for me, actually." Three, if her count was accurate.
Three years since the war.
Three years since she had returned to the village.
"I know. And... you seem to understand the other... the other me's situation. Her... association, with Duma. And I was wondering..."
There was a long silence. And Faye let out a sigh.
It was an unspoken agreement amongst the summoned that one did not speak too freely of what had happened in their past. After all, with people drawn from all over time and space, a careless word could result in massive changes if people returned to their time with the knowledge to avert fate—well, if they even had the ability to do so anyway. Still, better safe than sorry. There had been times where some had tried to warn friends and family of impending deaths they could now try to avoid—but those were considered extreme cases, and not everyone looked kindly on such attempts.
But now, seeing the distress on Celica's face...
"How much do you want me to tell you?" She finally asked.
"I don't know, really." A rueful laugh. "How much knowledge is too much? But it's hard to avoid the idea that she's... well, Duma's faithful servant. And the thought of becoming anything like her horrifies me."
Certainly that seemed to be the other Celica's catchphrase. And yet, of late...
"Sometimes I think she says it more for her own sake than anyone else." Her voice was a murmur.
"Hm? No, I was speaking to myself."
"I see..." Celica looked thoughtful for a moment. "I suppose... I'm still worried about the future of Valentia, back in my own world. I can only hope everything turns out all right in the end."
"I'm sure it will." Faye managed an encouraging smile. She had always seen Celica as wiser than her—larger than life—especially after she had ascended the throne. Seeing her now, still young and hesitant, it seemed... well, nostalgic, really. "You said it yourself, didn't you? For many of us, the war is already over. And peace comes back to the land. I can't say for certain what path you'll take—but I am sure you'll succeed."
Celica seemed buoyed by that statement, at least somewhat. And after exchanging pleasantries, she left.
But as Faye proceeded on to her archery practice, she couldn't help remembering the nightmare that the other Celica had suffered.
Her despairing cry as something had happened to the Alm from her world.
Everything will turn out all right in the end.
"What right do I even have to say something like that?" Faye muttered to herself as she let her first arrow fly.
Me, of all people?
They tended to blend into each other, after a while. Especially since there wasn't some overarching goal they had in mind, some target they were marching towards. Mostly it was defensive action after defensive action, against the incursions of Embla, and more recently Múspell.
Faye remained on her vantage point, scanning the field ahead for important targets. As always, Celica had charged ahead, tearing into the enemy forces with a fury.
The task force they were fighting off was larger than normal, and after a while Faye found fatigue catching up to her. Still, there didn't appear to be contracted Heroes on the Emblian's side, so it wasn't as harrowing as it could have been.
And then, just as the enemy numbers were dwindling and their opponent's retreat seemed all but certain...
Two soldiers. One holding a tome, and clearly preparing a spell of some sort. She lifted her bow, paused for the barest second the adjust her aim, and fired. The single shot struck true, and the mage collapsed.
She saw Celica charge the remaining foe. As she neared, the Beloved Zofia flashed, striking at her opponent. The soldier fell with barely a sound.
It was only when Celica staggered and fell to her knees that Faye realized she had been wounded in turn.
"Celica!" Taking off at a sprint, she closed the distance between the two of them and knelt down beside her, trying to assess the wound and see if she could do anything about it.
She was bleeding heavily, the blood shockingly bright against the white of Celica's dress. Faye let her bow fall from her hand as she yanked open her satchel, drawing out vulneraries and bandages.
"Don't... touch me!" Celica hissed out through gritted teeth as she glared at Faye. And Faye found herself returning the glare.
"Is Duma going to help staunch your bleeding? If the answer is 'no', then shut up and hold still so I can save your life."
Faye was no healer like Silque or Tatiana, but she had long since learned the basics of field medicine—that the injured would live long enough to be healed and saved. And so she worked, hastily soaking a bandage in curative solutions before tying it as tight as she could manage around the wound.
Finally she sat back and wiped at the sweat on her forehead. "Okay, that should do it." She said. "Come on, let's get you to someone who can patch you up properly."
Celica appeared dazed, as if she weren't entirely sure what was going on. She looked up at Faye—and suddenly her face twisted in outrage, and her blade was swinging up-
"Gah!" Faye whirled—an Emblian soldier had tried to sneak up on them, and Celica's wild blow had knocked the sword from his hand. The soldier stumbled back, clutching a bleeding arm.
"You..." pushing Faye away with a strength that belied her small frame and the injuries she had taken, Celica staggered to her feet, one hand still clutching the Beloved Zofia. Her eyes now blazed with a furious intensity, an inhuman anger, and Faye found a chill travelling up her spine as Celica advanced on the soldier, "cowardly wretch!"
"No, wait! Stop! I'm unarmed! I—I surren-" The sound of steel tearing through metal and flesh, and the sound of something heavy falling to the ground. And Faye felt a splash of warm blood against her arms and neck.
For a moment, silence fell, punctuated only by the ragging breathing of the two of them. And then Faye shook her head and pushed herself to stand. "Like I said, let's get you to a healer. Come on, lean on me and I'll help you."
"I can make it on my own." Celica's voice came out as a growl. Faye ignored it entirely as she walked over, looping Celica's arm over her shoulder.
"Just because you can doesn't mean you should," she said, putting more force into her voice than was absolutely necessary. "Now come on, before they decide to pick off stragglers."
Slowly, hand in hand, the two of them limped off the battlefield.
Faye looked up from the book she had been reading. Celica was lying on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. She appeared motionless, but Faye could see that her fists were clenched, and her jaw was tight.
"Sorry, what was that?"
"I was weak," she did not turn to look at Faye as she spoke, "and I was careless. That foe should have been far beneath me. Yet I was wounded by him. Lord Duma... does not forgive weakness."
Faye didn't respond for a moment. Truth be told, she wasn't quite sure how to.
Snippets of Duma's teachings and philosophy had made its way into their sermons, of course, now that the faiths were united. But sleepy little Ram was more resistant to change than most, and anyway most of what had filtered down to them bore little resemblance to the ravings of his followers during their last years.
Finally, she sighed. "Just be glad you got out of it one piece. Duma's blessings," that phrase still felt strange on her tongue, "or no, you're not invincible. No one is." Not even the god you've sworn your service to.
"Don't lecture me." Celica's eyes flashed, and Faye could see her teeth were clenched. "You've not the right."
"No?" Faye snorted as she closed the book and put it on the table beside her. "I'm just telling you that you can't expect to get everything done on your own."
"Fool. I am not my own. I am part of something, some one, greater."
"Yeah... Lord Duma's faithful servant. I know." Faye resisted the urge to sigh again or to roll her eyes. There argument wasn't likely to lead to anything productive, but Faye could be stubborn when the situation called for it, and sometimes when it didn't. "But the fact remains. Duma doesn't call you to be invincible, so don't beat yourself up over it."
"And how do you presume to know what Lord Duma demands of his children?" Celica was sitting up in bed now, wincing slightly at the pain in her midsection.
"No, you're right. There's lots of things about Duma I don't understand." Faye took a deep breath. "But I don't think he'd want one of his valuable servants to be lost just because of one mistake. Even if it means accepting help from someone else."
And as she spoke, Faye suddenly felt a prickling in the back of her eyes, and a tightening in her throat, and she paused, taking one deep breath, and then two.
Just because of one mistake, huh?
Suddenly she realized she had broken off halfway through her statement and she shook her head to dispel the melancholy that had clouded her mind before continuing to speak.
"So, anyway, you're always going on about strength and power, right? Strength isn't just the power to tear down and destroy, you know. It's also power to protect and save." She paused and gestured in the vague direction of the window, and the kingdom of Askr that spread out beyond it. "That's why we've all been called here in the first place. To protect another land. And protecting other warriors—protecting you—that's a part of it too."
"I see..." Celica closed her eyes and let out a sigh. "Is this how adherents of Mila define strength? It feels so odd. Yet... it is true that because of you, I can continue to serve Lord Duma."
Another silence. And then-
"Faye..." Celica spoke the word slowly, as if she were testing out the vocalizations in her throat. "That is your name, isn't it?"
"... Yes, it is."
"I shall remember that," Celica lowered herself down onto her bed once more. "Sometimes I feel like I have already forgotten so much. But... yes. You, I shall remember."
A few minutes later, her breathing became even and steady.
Meanwhile, Faye sat by the desk, and leaned to the side, resting her elbow on the table to prop up her head. Her hand lowered, covering her eyes as she closed them.
And she remembered blood, and heat, and screams of fear.
When Celica was healed enough to walk about on her own again, things returned to the way they were before.
"Why do you insist on following me around?" The question was still blunt, her tone still harsh, but at least Celica's face was no longer a glare. More of a confused annoyance.
"I can't be worried about you?" Faye raised an eyebrow. "You're not fully healed yet, you know. Maybe I'm just keeping an eye out for you, like a good partner should."
"I am not blind. Whenever you speak to me, you do so with thinly-veiled impatience."
"Maybe I'm just like that with everyone," she countered. Still, she had to admit that Celica's statement did hold some truth to it. She was...
Well, annoyed was probably the wrong way to put it. But at the end of the day, Faye still did find herself struggling with how she should regard the Celica who walked in front of her.
The Celica whose soul was held under Duma's influence.
Free her from it? How?
Let sleeping dogs lie? Was that even okay?
Faye took a deep breath. "Or maybe I just think you haven't been opening up enough. Maybe I'd like it if I could know a little more about you."
If there's... anything at all of the old Celica left in there.
"More about me?" Celica's eyes took on a distant, glassy look. "Why would you ask that? There is nothing more... I am nothing special, save for the blessings Lord Duma has granted upon me. That is right. I am a vessel, meant to carry Lord Duma's power and will."
Faye managed to rein in a sigh. "I suppose."
"Unless..." and now Celica leaned closer to her, and Faye caught what looked like an unpleasant gleam in her eye, "are you interested in Lord Duma's power?"
"You have strength, in your own way. Will you not accept Lord Duma's blessings?" Celica reached out a hand to her. "You would be granted power without compare. Power to seize whatever you wish."
To seize whatever I wish, huh? Faye shook her head and managed a smile. "I'll pass, thanks."
"Tch." Celica's face transformed into a disappointed frown, and Faye blinked. Seeing such a... normal expression on Celica's face seemed a bit unusual, now. "Fine. Have it your way. I had hoped..."
And there it was again. It seemed so strange. Celica, acting disappointed and excited. How much of it was her own will, even warped and twisted by Duma's influence?
"So," she shrugged, "even if I say no to accepting Duma's power, you're still okay with letting me stick with you?"
"... If you insist," Celica said in a manner strongly reminiscent of a huff. And with that, she turned and strode down the hall.
Faye watched her go, unsure if it was okay for her to feel a smile tugging at her lips.
"How's it hanging, Faye?"
Faye lifted her head and managed a weary smile. "Hello, Gray."
"Hey to you too." Gray settled himself beside her on the stone bench. "With weather as lovely as this, eating lunch indoors seemed kind of a waste."
She managed a tiny snort and a shake of her head. "You always did like your picnics out under the sun."
"What can I say? Old habits die hard. Speaking of which," Gray handed her a wrapped package, with she accepted with a grateful nod, "I figured you'd be out here again so I brought you your lunch as always."
For a while, the two of them ate in a comfortable silence.
Finally, after he had finished his lunch, Gray leaned back and blew out a sigh.
"So," he said. "How's it going with Celica?"
He didn't specify which one he was talking about. Then again, she supposed he didn't really need to.
"It's okay... I guess?" She felt a frown on her face as she recalled the events of the past few days. "She still doesn't talk much about anything other than Duma, but she seems more comfortable with letting me just... hang out with her during our downtime."
Faye still wasn't sure if she could call Celica a friend exactly, but Celica simply being close by, resting or waiting while Faye worked at maintaining her equipment or doing some extra sewing, was something that happened more and more often of late.
It was surprisingly pleasant. Comfortable, even.
Which, in its own way, was a problem.
"I know that look." Gray reached up and scratched the side of his head. "There's a 'but' coming, right?'
"But, I feel like... it seems wrong." One hand now rested against her forehead, and she massaged it slightly. "Being comfortable with her... like this."
"Yeah, I get what you mean. Only seems like yesterday I was horrified at seeing her all creepy and cackling. Now when I see her it's... well, I still don't like it, but I guess I'm getting used to it."
"I know. And I want to help her if I can, but... can I do that? Can we even do that? I don't know how it happened for you, but freeing Celica back in my timeline required Mother Mila's intervention," Gray nodded, to show that it was the same for him, "and Askr doesn't have anything of that sort."
"... We could send her home."
"That's not a decision we can make. Kiran's the one with magic summoning weapon." And given what little I know about the world Celica came from... there might not be anyone left there to bring her back, either.
Another brief silence. And then Faye sighed.
"And at the same time... if we really can't do anything about this, then... well, trying too hard just upsets her too. You remember when Alm tried talking to her?"
Gray's snort was sardonic. "'Talking' might be putting it a little too mild, don't you think?"
Well, that was true. It didn't really do justice to having Alm rush to her, grabbing her by the shoulders and pleading with her to come back to her senses.
Celica's reaction had first been blank surprise which quickly morphed into confusion and anger. She had wrested herself free of Alm's grasp with a furious roar of 'Get away from me!' before apparently suffering some kind of headache and storming off.
She had studiously avoided the hero-king of Valentia from that day on.
It seems like she knows that she knew Alm before... but, she can't remember how or why. And that knowledge just makes her more upset.
"To be honest, that's part of the reason why I wonder." Another deep breath, and another sigh. "Alm's... special to Celica. At least, I assume he was, before she got possessed. If what he does just makes her angry instead of jogging any memories or anything... well, I'm honestly not sure what more we can do."
"I guess..." Gray sounded frustrated, but then, so was Faye, both pondering if there was anything they could do for her. But after a moment, he raised an eyebrow. "Hey, speaking of Alm..."
"Yes, what about him?"
"You're a lot more reserved around him than the Faye I know. I mean, you're still happy to talk to him, I guess. But you don't go chasing after him or hanging on his every word. Sometimes it seemed like she—my Faye, I mean—couldn't go two sentences without bringing him up."
Faye's gaze lowered to her hands, resting on her lap. She took a deep breath and swallowed once.
"... Maybe I grew up a little," she finally said, after a long pause.
She could sense the questions on Gray's lips, but all of a sudden her hands had clenched into fists and she found herself springing to her feet.
"Sorry, I think it's time for me to get back to training. Thanks for bringing me lunch, Gray!"
"No problem." He obviously still had questions, but apparently Gray could tell Faye wasn't comfortable with speaking about this subject. "See you around!"
She managed a small wave goodbye, before hurrying off to the archery range.
"Hee hee... every time."
She knew she was staring again. But she couldn't help it. The way Alm moved on the battlefield, the way he was able to outfight and outmatch any opponent he met... it was amazing.
He was amazing.
And so she needed to help him. Needed to be by his side, to make sure he was safe.
She kept her bow primed, watching as Alm moved ahead, targeting another small group of Rigellians clustered together. As they charged him, she raised her bow, trying to figure out how many she could shoot down before the lines clashed and she could no longer risk firing into a melee.
One shot. Then two.
A soldier fell. The second stumbled, wounded. Alm stepped over the first, brought his blade up to knock down the second, and then the others were on him .
She had to protect him.
Even as she broke into a run, she started reaching for her next arrow. Her eyes scanned the soldiers facing Alm. If she could flank them, she could pick off the outermost enemies one by one, and that would let Alm -
"Faye! LOOK OUT!"
Suddenly something—someone?—slammed into her shoulder, and she was sent sprawling. Her bow clattered away from her, and as Faye pushed herself up and whirled around, she heard a strangled gasp of pain, and felt something warm and wet splash down on her face.
And Faye opened her eyes to the darkness of her room in Askr. How many nights had it been now, since she'd last had that dream?
One hand reached up to rub her face, and then she rolled over, trying to get a bit more sleep before dawn broke.
"Celica?" Faye called as she rounded the street. Hana had told her that she had seen her heading in this direction earlier. Taking a few tentative steps out, she quickened her pace when she caught sight of Celica, standing still. "There you are! Anna wanted me to let you know we're assigned for patrol this evening."
Celica did not respond immediately—which wasn't that unusual in and of itself—and as Faye neared she could see that Celica was staring at what appeared to be a small garden.
"...Celica? What is it?"
"These flowers." She was close enough now to see the pensive frown on Celica's face. "They're... beautiful."
"They are, aren't they?" Whoever was in this charge of this garden knew his or her work, that was for sure. The flowers had been planted so that they clumped up together in various spots, each bundle a brilliant burst of blues and yellows and reds.
"I do not understand," Celica said after a moment. "I am certain... Lord Duma would not care for such things. That is not the world he desires. And I am Lord Duma's faithful servant. And yet... I cannot help but feel drawn to them."
She crouched down, and reached out a hand. Her fingers brushed against the petals of the nearest flower, her motions slow and delicate.
"Is that so bad?" Faye asked as she folded her arms.
"I... what do you mean?"
"I mean, you're Lord Duma's faithful servant and all," and in the back of her mind, she pondered how much easier it had become to say that of late, "but that doesn't mean you have to like the same things he likes, right? So you like flowers. He doesn't. Is that a big deal?"
Celica did not respond, merely continuing to stare at the colourful blooms. Finally, she straightened, one hand reaching down to dust off her skirt.
"Come, we should be going. You said something about being assigned for patrol, correct?"
"Hm? Ah, yes." Faye gave a hasty nod.
"Then we had best be prepared." Celica turned to walk down the street, leaving Faye to trot along after her.
After a moment, Celica's pace slowed. "... Faye."
"What is it?"
"Do you know if there are... fields, in the region? With flowers like the ones we saw?"
"Well, not exactly." She scratched at her chin. "Most likely, though. Why? Wanna visit one?"
"Perhaps." And Faye thought she could see a smile tugging at the corners of Celica's lips. "And if we visit one someday, I could... hm, yes. I could make you a wreath of flowers."
And with that statement, Celica walked on, leaving Faye to stand there, staring at her, nonplussed.
So, Faye concluded, it probably wasn't her imagination that Celica had been warming up to her of late. That incident at the garden was merely the latest and most obvious clue.
It had happened more and more frequently, in little instances here and there.
In the mornings, Celica would not leave their room until Faye was ready to leave too.
Whenever they were both free, it was no longer unusual for Celica to simply linger nearby, watching Faye as she partook in her hobbies like sewing or pressing flowers.
In battles, Celica would still charge ahead. But every time there was a moment's gap or respite, her gaze would flicker back to where she had seen Faye last, as if to check that she was safe and all right.
Faye, meanwhile, had taken to a larger sewing project than normal. Mostly she worked on embroidering handkerchiefs, but now...
For almost a week, she worked, until her project was ready to be presented it to Celica.
"Here you go!"
Celica blinked and picked up the piece of cloth that Faye had handed her.
"What manner of..."
"It's a capelet." Faye explained as she helped her unfold it. "Like mine. Well, except the materials I can get here are better than anything I could find back in my village. It's been getting colder lately, so I thought it'd be, you know. Useful."
Celica continued to stare down at the cream coloured material of the cloth, lifting it slightly as if to test the weight.
"Don't tell me Lord Duma's blessings means the cold doesn't bother you?" Faye raised an eyebrow.
"You are mocking me," was Celica's reply, but there was no ire in her voice. Finally, with a smooth motion, she threw the capelet over her shoulders. "... It's heavier than I expected."
"Well, I wanted to make sure it could keep you warm."
"It is." Celica's voice grew softer. "It is warm. Just like you."
Faye blinked. "I'm sorry?"
But Celica was already shaking her head. "No, never mind. I appreciate the gift."
And before Faye could reply, there was a hammering on the door of their room. And from outside came Gray's voice. "Hey, Faye! You in there?"
"Yes, I am."
The door was pushed open and Gray leaned into the room. "Hey, you should come—Oh. Er... hi, Celica. Didn't know you were in here."
"What's the matter? What's going on?"
"Oh, right." Gray jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "You might wanna come see this. Kiran's summoned another hero. And this one... he, uh..." his gaze travelled over to Celica for a moment. "He reminds me of Celica. This one, I mean."
Faye and Celica traded glances, and then the two of them headed out of the room and towards the summoning altar.
Once again there was the murmurs of consternation all around as Faye walked up to the altar. Once again she could hear shouts of recrimination, softer murmurs of 'how awful!' and 'how could this happen?' all around her as she looked at the boy standing on the altar.
Wait, isn't that Takumi?
But not Takumi as she knew him. The prince of the foreign country was brash and a bit of a loudmouth and Faye hadn't gotten to know him very well at all. But she knew that he loved his siblings with a fervent intensity—from different worlds and times or not.
But the Takumi she saw in front of her...
He was stumbling forward, his arms totally limp save for the hand that held his ancestral bow—wait, it looked different now. His gaze was wild, sweeping the room as if looking for something he could not find, and his eyes shone with an unnatural glow.
"Where... where?" he demanded, in a voice that sounded like the scraping of rusty metal nails. "I have to... find him... have to kill him! For his... for my... betrayal... betrayal... I am..."
"Takumi!" A clear voice rang out, and suddenly Faye realized that Sakura was running up to him, arms outstretched. And for a horrible moment she wondered if this Takumi was too far gone, and if he would attack his sister.
But no. He froze as he caught sight of Sakura, and then she had reached him and drawn him into a tight embrace. And after a moment, his free hand was reaching up to hold her close too.
"Saku... ra. You're safe. You're alive."
"Yes! Yes, I am! Big brother..."
"Then... don't worry. I'll protect you. I'll protect everyone! All of Hoshido. Everyone..."
Just then, Faye heard a long, clear note, and she saw Azura lifting her staff, and beginning to sing.
Whatever magic was in the song appeared to help with pacifying Takumi, at least for now. Slowly he sank down to his knees, and his hug around Sakura tightened.
And suddenly she became aware that Celica was staring at the scene before her, a frown on her face.
"That man... he appears broken."
"... I suppose you could see it that way." Faye kept her voice low.
"His mind is a shattered ruin. It's clear that he is reduced to a few scraps of memory and emotions that drive him on." Her gaze grew hard. "And yet... that boy. He said that looking at him... he was reminded of me."
And Faye ducked her head, and did not respond.
There was a moment of silence between the two of them, and then-
Celica turned, and begin walking away from the altar.
The next week was spent in what was almost-but-not-quite a tense standoff. Celica didn't withdraw from Faye, nor did she demand that Faye leave her. But she was no longer willing to communicate much, if at all. And so the two of them continued their lives, now in shared silence.
Faye supposed Celica could use the time to think and gather her thoughts. Not that it made the silences any less awkward, or her any less frustrated. What was she supposed to do? Could she do anything to help?
And then it happened.
New summonings by the Summoner were a matter of routine by now. There were always warriors who had decided, for one reason or another, that their role in Zenith's conflict was over, and they wanted to keep Askr's forces bolstered. So it wasn't a surprise to see new faces every once in a while.
And because they were so routine, it wasn't until it was too late that Faye learned that the latest summoning had included someone who was not only from Valentia, but apparently an old friend of Celica's from the priory.
And by the time she had rushed over to the hallway where they had met, she could see a girl with pink-hair, tied in thick twintails, grabbing onto a Celica who appeared furious enough to be on the verge of drawing her sword.
"Who did this to you?" The girl was demanding, in a voice that was almost a wail. "Who? It was him, wasn't it? It was that bastard Jedah! Please, Celica! Wake up! Come to your senses!"
"I. Do not. Know-" and Celica wrenched her arm free, stumbling backwards a step, "any man called Jedah! And I don't know any 'Mae' either! This power was granted me by Lord Duma himself! And no other!"
"Don't talk like that! That's not you!" The girl—Mae?—stepped forward again. "Come on, we have to, to—Genny's here too, isn't she? Let's bring you to her, she might be able to-"
"Hey! Lay off!" Faye snapped as loud as she could as she neared the two of them (and the various others hovering in the background, looking uncomfortable). Stepping forward, she swept her arm out, creating a barrier between the two girls. "That's enough!"
"What?" Mae focused her gaze on her—and Faye noted the redness in her eyes and what looked like a tear stain down her cheek. "Who are you?"
"I'm her-" Faye broke off and bit her lip. Explaining the Summoner's request now seemed like it would take entirely too long and be counterproductive. And so she shook her head.
"I'm her friend." And that said it all, really.
Mae blinked, clearly not expecting that. "Her... friend?"
"Yes, look-" By all the gods, Kiran. Couldn't you have briefed her before letting her free to roam the kingdom? "you're upsetting Celica, right now. So please, calm down and let me explai-"
"Upsetting? Upsetting?" Mae's eyes now burned with cold fury. "Celica is a witch now! Duma's torn her soul right out of her body! And you—all of you—you're letting this just... happen?"
"A witch...?" Celica's questioning murmur went unheeded by the two of them.
"You think we're happy about this?" Faye snapped back, her own temper flaring. "You think staves or tomes could fix it? Or maybe you think yelling at her loud enough will help! You don't understand-"
"So you gave up? Or did you even try?" Mae's voice grew even louder, and Faye could now see fresh tears in her eyes. "You're letting her remain... remain broken like this, because you think it's just too difficult to fix?!"
There was the sudden sound of boots against polished stone, and both Faye and Mae whirled in time to see Celica running down the hall and ducking around the corner.
"Celica!" two sets of voices cried out in unison, and then they were both running after her.
As it turned out, knowing the layout of the castle was an advantage in more ways than one. She lost Mae quickly as they ran through the many hallways, and Faye had a good idea of where Celica's ultimate destination would be.
Several minutes later, she threw open the door to their room, and stumbled inside.
Celica was there, her back to her, staring at the far wall.
"Celica-" was all Faye managed to gasp out before Celica spoke over her.
"You think I'm broken?" Celica turned to face her, and Faye could see that her eyes were cold. "You too, Faye?"
Her first instinct was to lie. She quashed it.
Her second instinct was to tell the truth. She ignored that, too.
Instead, she remained silent, staring at Celica, taking in deep gulps of air.
"I told you before, I am not blind." Her eyes narrowed. "I can see it, in the eyes of those around us. Some are afraid of me. Others pity me instead. Others simply hate and abhor. What I am. What I stand for.
"And I didn't care. Weak, pathetic fools who could never comprehend Lord Duma's power. I am blessed. I am Lord Duma's faithful servant. So what if no one else understood that?"
Faye continued to remain silent.
Celica took one step forward. And in her hand gleamed the Beloved Zofia, now pointed at Faye.
"I could kill you, right here and now."
Faye's eyes flickered to the blade clutched in Celica's hand. She was a capable fighter, but she had seen how Celica fought when enhanced by Duma's power.
"Yes, you could."
"It would be easy."
For an eternal instant, neither one moved.
And then, Celica lowered her sword.
"That is power... power granted from Lord Duma. Power to seize whatever I want. Power to destroy all in my path. Who wouldn't desire it?"
Another silence, broken only by ragged breathing. And then Celica shook her head.
"I've seen the other me, too. She's horrified by me. I don't know what she is... what I was like before. All I know is that she looks at me, with such revulsion." A sad, broken sound that might have been a laugh. "Tell me, Faye. You knew me... as I was before, don't you?" A pause. A deep breath, as if Celica were steeling herself for something. "I... was I... someone... who would have wanted this?"
Faye averted her gaze.
"No." Her voice was soft, even in the silence of the room. "No, you weren't."
For a moment, there was no response. And then Celica's shoulders heaved, her breaths now coming in small rapid gasps. And Faye found herself taking a step forward.
"I know..." her voice was a husky whisper. "I know I've lost part of myself. But I never understood—I didn't realize how much. I didn't even realize I was cold... until I felt your warmth."
The sword fell to the floor with a clattering noise. And suddenly Celica was on her knees, her head hanging low, her entire body trembling.
And Faye found herself kneeling too, holding Celica close. And where once she would have flinched away, now she leaned into the embrace, her body limp.
"When you said you were my partner, it... irritated me, at first. Depending on others is for the weak. And I... I was not weak." Faye felt a trembling hand at her back now, as Celica held her close.
"I... it was a job for me, at first." Faye replied. She didn't know if saying that was the right call now, but suddenly it was important, so important that the air between her and Celica be cleared, that they both knew where the other stood. "But, that's changed. I want to help you now, however I can."
A weak chuckle. "That's it... right there. You, caring. You, looking out for me. It was just so... comforting. Like a warm, gentle light in the darkness. How could I not grow closer to you? How could I not realize... I had lost my way, somewhere?"
Another brief pause, as Faye continued to hold on to Celica. And then,
"I have had dreams of late. Visions, perhaps." When she opened her mouth to speak again, her voice was quavering. "I see... a village. And myself, living there. An old man, and a young boy. I... want to go there. They were important to me once. Yet... I cannot remember how. I know that boy is here. He's grown into a man. Alm. That name is so familiar and... so important. And yet... And yet.
"I remember my sword, pierced in, all the way up to the hilt. One last memory, before my mind went dark. What did I do?" She was trembling again, more violently now. "I don't... I don't even know what it is I've lost. Not anymore."
She lapsed into silence, and they remain that way for several moments, Faye stroking Celica's hair and Celica clinging to Faye's back.
And she made her decision.
"I can't bring back that boy. Or the old man." She let out her breath in a long, slow sigh. "But if you want... I can bring you back to the village. Away from the war. Away from Duma."
"Lord Duma..." her voice was tired now. "Did you know, Faye? His voice... has been growing fainter of late. I don't know why. Is it because I've spent so long here, away from his strength? Or is Lord Duma himself growing weaker, somehow? I don't know... I don't know."
The last words were barely a whisper, so soft that Faye had to strain to hear even though they were so close to each other.
"Isn't that a good thing? Even if you worship Duma, isn't it better if your mind is your own at the time?"
"But I..." Celica's head shifted against her shoulder, and suddenly Faye realized that the cloth there was wet, soaked with tears. "I have nothing else. Everything else has been cast aside. If I... If I cannot even be Duma's faithful servant... then what even am I?"
Faye pulled away, enough that she could look Celica in the eye. Slowly, she reached down, gently enfolding Celica's hands in her own.
"I think," she said, "that just being Celica, all over again, is more than good enough."
For a moment, neither moved.
And then, Celica released a shaky, laugh, and offered Faye a wavering, tearstained smile.
"So, I'm calling in that favour now." Faye said as she stood in front of the Summoner, arms folded. "You asked me to help Celica get acclimatized here. That's happened, more or less. So in return, I'm gonna need you and that Breidablik of yours."
"You want to leave the Order of Heroes?" He scratched at his forehead. "I mean, it'll be a loss to see you go. But I can arrange-"
"No, not just yet." Faye shook her head. "I'm willing to lend my aid for a while longer. And Celica, too. But I do want you to do some research on that weapon and the summoning ritual for me, if that's possible."
"Oh? Research? What about?"
Faye took a deep breath. "Do you know if it's possible to send someone back to a different world than the one they came from?"
Faye squinted, feeling the heat of the sun's rays on her face. She could feel the springy grass, pressed down by the weight of her back, and with a sigh, she sat up.
The field. So familiar. The song of the birds. The trees and the flowers, the same variety that was found only in Ram.
She laughed, long and loud, and smiled as she looked around her.
So I'm back, after all.
"How long have I been away in Askr?" She lifted a hand to her head. "Ugh. Memory's fuzzy. He warned me this might happen."
Oh well. Nothing to be done about it. More importantly...
She cupped her hands over her mouth. "Celica!"
"Over here, Faye."
She turned at the sound of her voice, and saw Celica lying on her back as well. Wiping at her skirt and hefting the pack of her belongings, she walked over, reaching out a hand to help her to her feet.
"We succeeded, didn't we?" Celica looked around the field they were in, her face filled with an emotion Faye couldn't easily describe.
And Faye smiled and nodded, sweeping her free hand out to point in the direction of home.
"Yes, we did."
In the distance, the familiar walls were visible. And Faye felt a rush of nostalgia, just from the sight.
"We've returned to the village."
For a moment, the two of them stood, luxuriating in the feeling of having come back. And then, Faye turned to face Celica, a warm smile on her face.
And, hand in hand, the two began their walk back.
And some time later...
Faye grunted as she lugged the bucket across the field.
Ahead of her, her destination came into view.
A row of gravestones, each neatly carved.
"Thanks for coming with me." Faye looked over her shoulder and smiled at Celica, walking beside her. "It'll really be a big help."
"This is important to you, isn't it?" Celica nodded back. "Then, it's important to me, as well."
Soon, they were before the gravestones. And then, working carefully, they began cleaning them with damp cloth, as well as plucking the weeds that had grown around the plots.
After they had finished, Faye crouched in front of the gravestones, reading them one by one.
HERE LIES SIR MYCEN. WAR HERO AND GRANDFATHER OF THE SAINT-KING, ALM THE FIRST
I'm back, uncle. I remember you telling me that no matter what, life goes on. And I learned it for myself, even if in another world. So thank you for that lesson. I hope you're resting well.
She stood, moving to the next one, her fingers trailing along the neatly carved letters on the rock.
HERE LIES ISAAC. DEVOTED HUSBAND AND LOVING FATHER
I'm back, father. I'm sorry I was away for so long. But I won't leave again.
And then Faye swallowed as she moved on. Two more gravestones.
HERE LIES KENDRA. BELOVED WIFE AND MOTHER
And Faye closed her eyes. I'm sorry, mother. I was gone for so long... I didn't even know you'd taken ill after I left. But you're with father again, now. So please, watch over me.
Finally, she straightened, and moved over to look at the last gravestone. The letters were embossed neatly, like all the ones before.
HERE LIES SIR GRAY. KNIGHT OF THE ONE KINGDOM.
And then, underneath, in smaller letters.
No greater love, no greater sacrifice, than to lay down one's life for the sake of a friend.
I'm home, Gray. Did you know? I met another you in another world. He's doing well, and we became friends... again. So thank you... thank you... and... I'm sorry.
She didn't know how long she kneeled there, head bowed, in front of the last gravestone. Gradually she became aware that Celica was standing behind her.
"He was knighted posthumously," she said, by way of explanation. "Because that meant the compensation given to his family would be that much greater. Alm... thought he deserved no less. After what he did. For my sake."
"You've lost a lot, too." Her voice was warm. Understanding.
Faye didn't respond. Suddenly, from behind her, she heard the sound of a soft rustling.
And then something light was placed on her head and Faye blinked, instinctively reaching up to touch-
"This is... a flower crown?"
"I recall promising to make you one if you brought me to a flower field," Celica's voice was gentle, as was her smile.
"So I did." She could see another crown in Celica's hand, most likely the exact mirror of the one she now bore. "Why now, though?"
"You came here to confront yourself with what you've lost." She said. "So I thought it would also be good to remind you to celebrate what we still have."
"And what do we have?" Faye cocked her head to one side, nearly causing the wreath to fall off. "A house, a home. A peaceful land. Plentiful food..."
Celica placed her own crown on her head and reached over to grasp Faye's hands in her own.
"And each other." Her voice was soft, but emphatic.
And Faye laughed and nodded. "Also, and especially, that."
Once more, the two of them turned to head back home.
Tomorrow would be another day.
Author Notes: So this is technically not canon-compliant to Fire Emblem Heroes and how they portray the characters therein. But it's fanfiction and I can indulge myself. I wanted to write an older Faye who basically went through the events of SoV alongside Alm and received nothing but pain and loss for it, and so she's a lot more reserved and bitter in general – but at the same time she was forced to mature and grow up a lot faster too.
Direct inspiration for this story was partly because of Fallen Celica's confession line where she recalls wanting to go back to the village (apparently her time spent in the priory with her Novis buddies isn't worth remembering... bleh.) as well as her dialogue which also indicates that her memory is shot to hell and she's sometimes struggling to recall who she used to be. I thought it would be interesting to write about that, and also the explore the idea that there's not always an easy way to restore or bring back someone.
Sometimes actions can have far-reaching consequences, and the best you can do is pick up the pieces and move on.
And of course I love writing about Faye and Celica interactions. Even when they're both unhappy suffering individuals, in their own ways. Their relationship isn't written to be romantic, but it can be read that way if you're so inclined.
Lastly, I really got to work on my wordcounts running away from me. I even ended up cutting out a few scenes of Celica and Faye just hanging out awkwardly and continuing to warm up to each other.
In any case, I hope you enjoyed reading this. Comments and critiques are, as always, most welcome.