A/N: … I'll be honest, I'm really sick of my work ethnic, or rather the lack thereof. Seriously, a year and a third since my last upload, and only one new story, not even an update to the story I said I'd work on?! I told myself I'd write more over the past summer, yet here I am, churning out a story once the latest banner trailer dropped and a flash of inspiration struck from its timing.
Then again, also deciding to get MHW that summer, and then the Iceborne DLC the day it came out on PC, probably wasn't the best idea with productivity in mind. Do I regret sinking 400 hours in it so far? Not in the slightest! I have the energy, so perhaps I can refocus it elsewhere… Anyway, that's enough about me, now on with the story!
I hope you find your stay here in Askr first class. Flora, me, and Jakob have been hard at work ensuring only the best for everyone! That said, I have a favor I'd like to ask of you in person. Please meet me in the courtyard after lunch so we can talk over some tea.
PS: I'm the maid with pink hair!
The young musician had found the folded letter on the desk next to his bed, right in front of a glass vase that, from the right angle, seemed to have a faint crack along its side. He wondered, Only a day in Askr, and someone already needs me for something. Maybe it's for combat training. He heard from his sister, Ninian, that those gifted in the performing arts held great favor amongst the vast majority of Askr's troops, if only for the reenergizing properties of their performances.
Considering that his sister, as quiet and demure as she was, encouraged him to start making friends soon after he arrived, the turquoise-haired boy had little reason to refuse. Heck, maybe I can get along with the other dragons here, he guessed as he walked to the courtyard, an outdoor site spotted with several tables already set for teatime. As one of the few survivors of the Scouring, the amount of full and half-draconic beings in Askr surprised him more than anything, especially with how they were treated plainly by the numerous humans there. Then again, the presence of bird people and other beasts likely helped normalize him in their eyes.
"Hey, Nils! Over here!" A voice suddenly rang out, and he turned his head towards its origin: a pink-ponytailed maid with a few small brown splotches on her uniform. Sitting with her were a blond woman roughly her age and a young girl with platinum hair, the latter mindlessly flipping a knife around in one of her tiny hands and twirling around a lock of hair in the other. An odd combination of people, sure, but they seemed friendly enough.
As he took a seat, Felicia poured him a cup of steaming tea. When it was placed in front of him, the faint scent of brine lingered in the air. Turning his gaze to the blonde, he noticed her untouched cup had cooled, causing the ice dragon to tremble. He told the maid, "Thanks, but my sister said caffeine's not good for young dragons."
She looked disheartened and sighed, "Nobody ever wants to drink my tea, do they? Guess I should've gone with a pitcher of water…" The blonde was quick to respond, shaking her head vigorously now.
"Not at all, Felicia! It's just… I've recently been trying to limit the amount of tea I drink everyday, and you already know giving caffeine or sugar to Ylgr's a bad idea to begin with." She lacked the courage to look her straight in the eye, so her gaze turned to the platinum-haired girl, hoping she'd follow along with the act.
The little girl pounded her fists against the table. "What?! No, it's not! I can handle sugar very good! Don't lie to her, Fjorm! Do you really want to teach your little sister that lying to others is good?" she exclaimed, staring with giant puppy dog eyes with the last sentence.
"No, no. Your sister makes a good point," Felicia stated, "It'd probably take all of the Heroes in Askr and Embla just to calm you down after a sugar rush." She and Fjorm held back their laughter as Ylgr continued to rage.
Suddenly, the servant snapped her fingers and gestured as she continued, "Oh, yes. Introductions! Nils, this is Fjorm and her younger sister, Ylgr. They're both princesses of the Nifl kingdom here on the continent of Zenith. Fjorm, Ylgr, this is Ninian's younger brother, Nils. And I am Felicia, a maid… still in training, I'd say." Despite suddenly feeling rather small in his chair, and noting the woe in Felicia's description of herself, Nils chose to speak his mind.
"E-excuse me, Miss Felicia, but why'd you bring us all out here? You said you needed me for something important." Something clicked in the pink-haired girl's mind as she slapped her cheeks together.
"That's right! I wanted to see if any of you were interested in forming a new group!"
Fjorm asked, "A new group? Like CHOP or SLASH?"
"Well, not related to combat, but you're on the right track! I wanted to see if any of you were willing to help me make the 'Friends Related to Oldest Sisters Team'! I wasn't too sure about going through with it with just you, me, and Ylgr, but Nils showing up means that this must be fate telling us to group up!"
Ylgr ran the letters through her mind, her face contorting in utter confusion. "That becomes 'for toast'?" she guessed.
Her sister responded, "I think she's trying for 'frost', sister."
Felicia clapped once. "Yes, again! Y'know, because we all have older sisters and have an affinity towards ice. Fjorm, your understanding's gonna make this plan of mine much easier!"
Left with yet another mystery to unravel, the boy asked, "What's this plan of yours? Are we doing anything… bad?" After reuniting with his sister in a foreign world, the last thing he wanted to do was get in trouble and upset her. He breathed a sigh of relief as Felicia shook her head fast enough to make her hair seem like a pony's tail in motion.
"Nononono! Not at all. In fact, our first course of action was gonna be to do something good for my sister, Flora. She's a maid dressed up just like me." It didn't take a genius for Nils to realize she meant the blue-haired servant he saw earlier that day, sweeping up a pile of broken plates with the faintest hint of displeasure in her eyes.
Ylgr piped up, "Well? What are we gonna do? I'm getting bored again just hearing you drag this on!" Nils wondered if the table would withstand the girl's continued abuse.
"As thanks for putting up with me, I wanted to throw a birthday party for her. A big one, too. That way, she can't possibly say no to it like last year!"
Ylgr gasped at the very idea. "Say no to a birthday party?! Who'd possibly do that? Sounds like she's really boooooor-" As a finger lightly tapped her shoulder, the young girl winced and clutched it as if it actually hurt. "Owww~! Sis, why'd you do that?"
Ignoring her sibling's attempt to garner sympathy, Fjorm inquired, "Wait, Felicia. Aren't you two twins?"
"Yes. She's older by only a few minutes. If you're worried about me, don't. I'd rather the party be focused on her. To make up for the trouble I caused when I was trying to help."
"And both of your birthdays are on the 19th of this month, right?" Nils couldn't tell the date, as he was still a newcomer to the world and all, but Ylgr seemed to have an idea of where this was leading.
"...Yes, that's usually how it works with twins."
Fjorm breathed out slowly and deeply, her hands pressed flat together in front of her face before asking slowly, "Felicia, what day is today?"
"The date? Oh, that's easy! It's the eighte-" Her eyes fluttered wide open as the reality of her situation struck her as hard as dropped porcelain strikes the ground. "ourbirthday'stomorrow…" she croaked sadly, and Nils could've sworn that the air got colder with every passing second. Whether the cold or her gloom bit into him deeper, he wanted it to stop, and so he offered a solution.
"Maybe… we can split up our duties? Fjorm and Ylgr could decorate the room, I could make sure your sister doesn't find out, and since you probably have the most cooking experience out of all of us," he continued, unaware of the princesses motioning him to stop talking, "you can bake a cake for her." While his assumption was completely true, Nils could not have possibly known that the majority of those experiences did not turn out well for anyone involved.
Felicia stiffed a sniffle as she gazed towards the boy in awe. "R-really? You'd do that for me, on such short notice?" Nils nodded without hesitation.
"You and your sister have been taking care of mine for a while now, haven't you? In that case, I'd like to thank you for it by helping you."
Fjorm turned to Felicia with a big grin. "As would I. Had you both not taken the curse of the cold into yourselves, the Rite of Frost may have sealed my fate. I owe my life to you two the same way I owe the Summoner."
Ylgr butted in, " Thanks for saving my sister and all that, but didn't Flora join in because you started it on a whim, and she kept yelling about how she didn't want you to die because of it?" As Fjorm shot a quick glare at her sister, Felicia tapped her cheek sheepishly.
"Yeah, she did, but it didn't seem to do anything bad to us."
Fjorm inquired incredulously, "Really? No sneezing, no fevers? Not even a single unusual cough?!"
"Maybe it's because of our icy blood, but I felt stronger after that. Super, even! Besides, if Death herself could barely scratch my sister, what's a little more cold?" she pointed out, laughing at the memory of Hel, sovereign of the dead, quickly growing more frantic and desperate as each swipe of her scythe simply bounced off the maid as cold as ice, not even making her budge.
The older ice princess sighed with relief. "Sometimes, I envy your greater affinity for the cold…"
"Wait," the pink-haired girl exclaimed, "does this mean you'll all be joining FROST?" The trio looked at each other and nodded in approval.
"Ninian would probably get mad if I said no," Nils muttered in slight embarrassment.
Fjorm replied confidently, "It's the least I could do for you, Felicia." Meanwhile, her sister shrugged and rolled her eyes with amusement.
"Eh, maybe this won't be so boring after all…"
With unanimous agreement, the pink-haired girl would've jumped with joy had she not been sitting down. "Alright, here's what we're gonna do. After you finish your lunches tomorrow, hide somewhere nearby the large mess hall. Flora and I usually finish cleaning it up two hours after noon. We'll have the party at around five in the afternoon, when everyone is spending the afternoon in their own way and right as Flora comes back to prepare dinner.
"Fjorm, Ylgr, I'll need you to spend tonight cutting out paper snowflakes and making a banner that says 'Thanks for everything, Flora!' with 'Happy Birthday!' right above it. Then, once my sister leaves, start decorating the mess hall while I work in the adjacent kitchen. While you're there, can I trust you to push the tables in the center of the mess hall to the side and make this sculpture in the middle, but much bigger? Like 'nearly reaching the ceiling' big? I'll need every bit of time I can in case I mess up the recipe or drop the food once or thrice."
In Felicia's right hand appeared a small ice sculpture. On a square base stood two horses at the front corners, their bodies facing the viewer in the middle, and behind them was an ovaloid standing on its long end and a sphere on top, making it somewhat resemble a person. Around the makeshift person, two counterclockwise swirls spiraled upward and around twice at opposite ends. There was ample room between the spirals and the body, while the spirals left little room around the head. Every piece looked simplistic by itself, but when put together,the design seemed far more intricate, enough that they were surprised she could make it on the spot. Felicia allowed them to gaze in awe for a moment before continuing.
"Well? Can you do it?"
Fjorm snapped out of her trance and took a minute to ponder the logistics of forming an ice projection of that magnitude. Sure, I summoned several massive icicles at once with Leiptr, but those were all giant cones, one of the most natural ice formations. Not something as refined as this, she reasoned.
Finally, she gave her answer. "Give me most of that time to focus on stabilizing the structure, and it'll be as accurate as I can make it. Until then, might I have it so I might commit it to memory?"
"Sure thing, Fjorm! Don't worry, it shouldn't melt unless you expose it to direct fire magic. Just don't let Flora see it!"
"You can do this, big sis! I believe in you! And I'll make the best snowflakes you'll ever see. You won't be able to tell them from the real deal!" No longer was Ylgr the bored child at an event they were forcibly dragged to. Instead, her blood pumped at the idea of holding such a grand party.
While Nils was glad to see a strategy form, he couldn't help but address the elephant in the room. "Wait, we need an excuse as to why they should not come-"
"Tell them I'm practicing my cooking! Nobody'll want to go anywhere near there!" Felicia stated with every last bit of tragic confidence.
"A-and if someone misses lunch or still feels hungry?"
Fjorm answered for her, "Don't worry, the mess hall only serves food during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Otherwise, it's simply another place to meet up. There's a smaller dining hall in an adjacent wing that's always open just in case."
The maid sighed, "We still find ourselves cleaning it more often than anywhere else, though." Stahl and Effie were bad enough, but I wonder if introducing her and CHOP to the concept of protein shakes was the best decision, Commander Anna…
Suddenly, Felicia exclaimed, "Oh, Nils. Whatever you say, don't let Flora or Jakob find out I'm in there! If either of them do, they'd immediately rush over to me and ruin the surprise!"
"T-then what DO I tell them?"
"I-I…" As Felicia struggled to think of a way to deceive her wiser sister, as well as put the ever strict Jakob at ease, the youngest Nifl princess squeaked out.
"Tell them I asked her to play with me, and that I don't want anyone butting in on my fun!" Felicia and Nils stared at her skeptically.
Fjorm muttered, "That'll work, actually. Gods have mercy on the last soul that interrupted her play time." That stare was immediately averted as neither of the otherworldly ice siblings wanted to incur the child's wrath.
Felicia took one last look at her new team with pride. "Everyone knows what they're doing? Great! We'll meet up in the mess hall at 2:15 in the afternoon tomorrow, sharp!"
"What do you mean, 'Princess Ylgr is busy using Felicia as her personal pony'?! Can't you see we have important business in there?" Jakob exclaimed to the young ice dragon, currently the only obstacle between him and the door to the mess hall.
"You see, Lady Ylgr appointed me as her 'royal guard', and as royal guard, I can't let anyone get in her way," Nils replied matter-of-factly, having practiced the excuse to himself for several hours straight.
"This is absurd, I demand to be let in right now, or else-" The butler felt a hand restrain him. Kiran, who had been amused and passive to this point, was not about to have him throw down the gauntlet with a child of all people. A half-dragon child, yes, but a child regardless.
They dragged him back a bit and whispered, "Jakob, let it go. I know Corrin told you to do this for them, and, don't get me wrong, I want to do this for them as well, but nobody gets between Ylgr and her playtime and gets away with it. I guarantee it."
With the vague threat settling in, Jakob scoffed and looked away. "Fine, we could clear the dining hall and use it to prepare that special recipe, but it would not do to have a change of venue on such short notice." He turned to the boy and asked, "Do you know when Ylgr will be done? We must have the mess hall available to us as soon as physically possible."
"Umm… check back at around five. She doesn't seem like she'll tire out anytime soon…" As the faint shout of a joyous little girl reverberated through the door, the silver-haired man grimaced and turned to leave, moving as fast as what was still legally considered walking.
The Summoner quickly followed after him. "C'mon, Jakob. I'm sure we'll get everything ready before Flora comes in to make supper. The celebration will-"
A soft-as-snow voice inquired, "What's this about a celebration?" causing Kiran to scream and jump into Jakob's arms, who struggled to hold up their sudden weight.
Flora allowed herself a small chuckle as she continued, "No, really. How may I help with this celebration? Who's it for?"
Kiran stammered, "I-it's for the new portal. There's a lot of people to celebrate for. Ninian finally found her brother again, Matthew might reunite with his lost love, Lyn gets to meet somebody else from Sacae, and Fiora doesn't have to wear a swimsuit anymore! We wanted to surprise them at dinnertime, though."
"Oh, in that case, you must let me help! I know Ninian was a tad jealous when I showed up before her brother, but we've become good friends, if you ask me! I'm sure she'll appreciate it even more when I-" At this point, the sharp-tongued butler was on the verge of popping a blood vessel from the annoying situation he found himself in. Thankfully, the Summoner leapt out of his arms to cut her off.
"-You'll be patrolling around making sure the other Heroes are getting along and aren't at each other's throats. Now go, but be sure to get back in time for dinner preparation."
Flora looked distraught for a second. "Are you sure you don't need my help?"
They shook their head, "Nope, Jakob and I can handle this ourselves. Actually, I don't think there'll be too many issues today. Maybe you can take this time to relax. See ya later," and left the maiden to perform her newly assigned task.
After two hours of reaffirming that the new Heroes were being accepted by the others, as well as half an hour simply chatting with Ninian and asking her how her brother was doing, Flora finally started walking back towards the mess hall, though she had the feeling that something was missing. Relax, huh, she thought. The idea of her taking a break and indulging herself seemed both familiar in concept yet completely foreign in execution, like those horseless metal carriages Kiran once mentioned. But how can I ever relax, especially here? So many messy Heroes to look after, on top of Felicia's- Her eyes widened as she realized what hadn't shown up.
"Where's Felicia?! Flora exclaimed to nobody in particular. Yes, it had been less than three hours since they last saw each other, but her sister disappeared without a trace, nor did she once hear the usual cacophony of clatter, shatter, and rushed apologies whilst roaming the castle grounds. As the maid of ice racked her brain to figure out where her sister had gone and what she had done in that missing time, another person with the power to summon blizzards closed the distance.
Once she felt a pair of eyes on her, Flora donned her ice-cool facade once more and turned to address the newcomer. "Good afternoon, Lady Gunnthrá. What seems to be the matter?"
In stark contrast to her, the eldest princess of Nifl gifted her a genuine warm smile and stated, "I'm simply concerned for the well-being of my younger siblings. I believe you were in the middle of doing that as well. Am I wrong?" Stunned at the accurate and precise estimation, the servant, so used to encasing her heart deep in ice as protection from the cruel world she lived in, allowed it to adorn her sleeve, if once for the legendary Hero.
"Y-yes, I am. Why? Have you not seen your sisters around either?" A single nod seemed to confirm a deep fear of hers: her sister, as well as two others attuned to ice, seemingly vanished without a trace.
"What?! Something must've happened to them! Lady Gunnthrá, we have to-" The taller woman put a finger to the maid's lips, leaving her with the subtlest blush on her pale skin as the princess explained.
"Actually, I don't think that'll be necessary, Flora." Without another word, the eldest Nifl sister guided her towards the mess hall.
In front of the mess hall, Jakob, now holding two massive silver platters covered with domes, was once again barking at Nils. Meanwhile, Kiran seemed buried in the countless bags of decorations they brought with them.
"I understand that you are still new to this world, Nils, but for the love of the gods, tell her to hurry up! I have spent the last half hour listening to that little girl have her fun. Flora will be back any second, and now you've left us no time!" Hopefully Master Corrin did not have trouble finding presents, the butler wished offhandedly.
"B-but we're-" As if on cue, Ylgr popped out of the door and into the hallway.
The little girl proudly claimed, head held high, "All done! Now go and do what you need to do, Mr. Grumps." She stared down the butler with a smug grin. He rolled his eyes in retaliation.
"Finally! Now then, we might be able to at least- What the?!" Jakob halted his march to take in the scenery. From the chandeliers hung stark-white snowflakes, twisting in the wind as if they were truly falling down. Normally disarrayed tables were lined up in rows, all facing towards the set piece in the middle, an ice carving that managed the perfect balance of magnificence and glamour. In front of it was a table, and if the two horses facing it were any indication, it'd be the perfect spot for food. In front of the set piece, a large banner was tied to two of the support pillars.
As Kiran stepped in, they let out a low whistle, brashly dropped the decorum they held, and snarked, "Wow, Jakob. Didn't know you got the art of decorating down to mere milliseconds! But, uh, would it kill you to give Felicia some credit every now and then? And to warn me that you had your own instead of letting me gather and carry all this stuff?!"
As Jakob set the trays down and revealed two massive cakes, one pink and the other a pale blue and both intrinsically decorated with icing, he confessed, "This wasn't me, which means the only one it could've been is-"
"Ylgr and me, actually." On cue, Fjorm stepped out from behind the sculpture, rather embarrassed. "I'm sorry, had we known you'd also do something for them, we would've let you know what we were doing for Flora." Then, as if the world deemed it necessary, the maid in question walked in, Gunnthrá following closely after her.
"Have any of you seen Feli-... cia?" Her heart skipped a beat or two as she took in the shape of the ice before her. Every edge, every curve, was exactly as she remembered. Even the chandeliers' light bouncing off the ice, giving it an otherworldly glow, and the snowflakes now twirling to a slightly cold wind reminded her of the same thing.
Flora felt her heart throb as an aching desire, one that she had ever since she was forced into servitude, was filled if only temporarily: to see her home once more. As the woman wiped away tears of joy she never thought she'd shed, Gunnthrá walked over to her sisters and embraced them tightly.
"You two have done a splendid job! I'm sure her sister would be delighted to see this as well. Speaking of, do you know where she is?" The distant frantic clacking of heels growing closer was more than a sufficient answer for her. Everyone turned to see Felicia run across the mess hall, moving as though she'd slip or drop her tray at any moment.
"Watch out, watch out! I've got a cake coming through~!" Miraculously, she made it to the center table unscathed, though there were already white and brown stains on her outfit and in her hair. "Didn't even trip once!" she remarked proudly, head held high. Then, once she opened her eyes, she was baffled.
"Huh? Why are there two cakes already here? And Jakob, what are you doing here?"
"I was sent by our master to make cakes and hang decor in honor of you and your sister. Regrettably, it seems you were one step ahead of me on both accounts. Well done, for once."
The icy-blue maid tilted her head and inquired, "Felicia, do you understand what's going on? And why are you such a mess again?" In response, Felicia lifted the lid off of her creation: a squarish slab of what seemed to be a cake topped with white cream, with icing messily added on the edges and on the face to spell 'Happy Birthday', though the text started in the middle and got compacted towards the right. In silence, she slowly cut a small square off and handed it to her sister, allowing her to see the layer of chocolate chips between the top white and a hidden brown bottom layer.
Felicia smiled as she passed the cake and joked, "Did you really forget your own birthday? C'mon and liven up a little! It seems like I'm not the only one who wanted to show how much we appreciate you!"
Flora couldn't suppress a smile as she accepted it. "I… Thank you for everything, Felicia. I couldn't have asked for a better twin." As the uptight maid sunk her spoon into the slice, though, she couldn't help but hesitate, as it wasn't like any cake she ever saw or made. "This cake… Is it supposed to be cold?"
"Sure thing! I didn't want to start yet another fire and ruin the surprise, so I wanted to try and make this 'ice cream cake' thing Kiran raved on about!" At the mention, the Summoner leapt to the cake table.
"Icecreamwhatnow?! Felicia, how did you…?" the Summoner asked as they quickly cut a slice for themselves.
"I simply remembered what you told me during these past three years, silly! Both about how'd you'd have them while you were a child and how you made ice cream with two bags! I tried using leather as the waterproof bags, though I'm not sure if we can reuse them. I dunno where we can find this 'plastic' you spoke of."
Without fear of Felicia's cooking for once, Kiran shoveled a spoonful straight into their mouth. "Mmh! Rather different than what I'm used to, but it's actually good!" Everyone but Felicia and Kiran gasped, and then Ylgr and Fjorm moved in to grab a slice of ice cream cake for themselves.
Jakob shook his head with disbelief. "Of course the one thing she gets right is something we barely have any idea about."
Flora snapped at her coworker. "Jakob! You could save the criticism for tomorrow, at the very least." Though I suppose Felicia can teach me how to make something, for once.
In the doorway, Nils watched the party with delight. "Only two days here, and I helped make a bunch of people very happy!" As his sister came to see what the commotion was about, she gasped.
"Her birthday was today? She didn't tell me…"
"It's more that she didn't think it was something to make note of, big sis. But maybe we can change that."
"I see you made some friends as well… Oh, is that Gunnthrá? I had something I wanted to ask her." As they walked closer, the other members of FROST cheered with the young boy, and the Summoner motioned them closer with great fervor.
"What are you waiting for?" Kiran asked. "Come on in and take some. The cakes can wait until supper, but ice cream's a dish best served cold!"
And how splendid a dish it was, that Felicia would end up being the one people went to for cold and frosty desserts! Flora may have finally had a chance to relax and be appreciated for once, but Felicia had a successful chance to prove herself, as well as three new friends to make her stay in Askr all the better! And really, what better birthday present could the maid mayhem have asked for?