By Tenshi no Ai
(C) Intelligent Systems and Nintendo
In all her years around pegasi, first with her mother, then as a pegasus knight trainee and finally as a full-fledged pegasus knight, Fiora has always prided herself on the fact that she never fell off of one of those noble creatures. Too many people, an entire country, depended on this skill. A hundred Ilians died each time a pegasus knight fell, as her former squad captain was fond of saying. She will not fail them.
As she teeters on the edge of unconsciousness, knees instinctively locking around her pegasus' flank as they spiral into the mists that enshroud Valor, she thinks she has failed now.
Perhaps she had the minute she accepted the job to venture onto the Dread Isle.
The richly decorated sitting room in Reglay manor clearly unnerved some of the pegasus knights with its easy, yet tasteful, display of wealth. Others were attempting to hide their irritation and failing; one bauble or ornate urn could pay for an Ilian family's meal for a fortnight--nay, a month!--and here they were, sitting around and giving the maids a job to do. Only Fiora remained unmoved, her attention riveted to the grand mahogany doors from where their employer would reenter to negotiate the rest of the contract with them. It was the first part that only added to the general unease of the fifth wing of pegasus knights.
--I admit that this would sound most intimidating, but all of Elibe knows of the bravery of Ilia's pegasus knights. I would ask for you to go to Valor and investigate the environs--
A mercenary had no need of an employer's true intent, leading to a multitude of infamous stories about employer betrayal. However, a mission to Valor, of all places...even Fiora had to wonder why. Why would Count Reglay want to know about such a dreadful place?
The doors swung open and Etruria's famous mage general entered the room. His wife followed his even pace, her greeting smile setting the pegasus knights at ease. "Thank you for staying. It would have been understandable if you decided that other missions were to your liking," said Lord Pent.
Fiora stood up from her seat, acknowledging his words with a curt nod. "Understandable, perhaps, but it is as you said. We are Ilia's finest. If word got out that we turned down a mission because we feared for our lives, no one would trust in the power of our lances. Please, tell us what you require."
"First, a question. Have you ever heard of an organization called the 'Black Fang'?" the mage general asked, sitting down on a cherry wood couch. His wife sat beside him, her head slightly inclined towards him in an attitude of complete attention.
"No, my lord."
"It is an organization with shadowy repute, headquartered in Bern. Their original purpose, supposedly, was to do away with any of those in power who abused the common people." Lord Pent allowed for a small, sardonic smile. "Now things have changed."
"They are assassins," Fiora stated, disdain curling her normally moderate tone. She knew what others thought about her own profession, but those people never had to starve so their sisters wouldn't cry themselves to sleep from hunger. The work of assassins, however, reeked of dishonor.
The mage general nodded. "According to Etrurian reports, the Black Fang have been seen on Valor. I would ask you to find out what they are seeking."
The disquiet that followed the name of that cursed place was less than the last time, and the Ilian commander found it much easier to hide the chill that crawled down her spine. "Shall we engage them, Lord Pent?"
"It is at your discretion, Fiora," he answered, though Fiora could tell that he disliked the notion from the slight hesitance in his voice. "For the sake of the mission, it is much more important to find what they are after before anything else."
Now it was time to discuss the payment, something Fiora disliked. The way her tone became hard at the mention of money reminded her that she was Farina's sister, never a comforting thought even years after the middle sister had left. What made their work as mercenaries bearable, even honorable, was that they earned money for their country, not for money's sake. That was Farina's problem, Fiora believed, and that would be her sister's downfall.
But Farina's blood was also hers, and now it was time to bargain.
Glancing at her husband, Lady Louise stood. Fiora noticed that the noblewoman held a small bag and inwardly frowned. That wouldn't pay for three pegasus knights, not to talk of the eleven that comprised a wing. Then she realized that she was thinking like Farina and crushed that voice ruthlessly. She was a professional.
"This is what Lord Pent and I are able to pay for your group's services. Though, money alone would not be an adequate match for your bravery." The Etrurian noblewoman smiled, and in it Fiora could see sincerity beyond the likes of any noble. With the ease of a gliding pegasus, Lady Louise held out the payment. When Fiora took it, she was not only surprised to find that the smallness of the bag belied its weight, but that there was the feel of calluses along the blonde's delicately-shaped hands.
When she looked inside the bag, only her training kept her gasp from becoming audible.
With the slightest tremble in her bright blue eyes, she looked up at them. Husband and wife looked at each other before returning her gaze, solemnity giving their beautiful faces a stone-like cast. Lord Pent spoke, his voice softer than usual. "The payment is correct. We understand the risk you will be taking, and it is well known that Ilia's pegasus knights will do all that they can to complete their missions. Fiora, we will not be here when you return. I only hope that I would have seen all of you here after the mission's completion. May Saint Elimine protect you."
Apparently the blessed saint did not hear the supplication of one who came from the land she founded, Fiora would later think as she heard the screams of her comrades and was unable to do more as the fog enshrouded her and the arrows buzzed around her like a drone of bees.
She is falling.
Another pegasus knight, weaker in will, would've succumbed to the siren's song that is unconsciousness. She would've sunk in both body and mind and her crushed body would have lain among the wild and strange foliage of Valor, serving as a warning to all who would dare step onto the island. Her pegasus, that poor noble beast, might survive with broken wings, but what good is a pegasus that cannot fly?
Fiora thinks this and she fights the darkness clouding the edges of her vision. She is a pegasus knight of Ilia, one of Barigan's children! She still hasn't seen Florina become a full-fledged pegasus knight; she still hasn't apologized to Farina. She isn't even twenty yet, hasn't even lived the full potential of her life as one of Ilia's saviors.
So many people are depending on her.
With an ease that belies her strict demeanor, she guides her pegasus using only her thighs; the reins had been rendered useless during the attack. He, just moments before accepting his partner's lassitude with a suicidal submissiveness, now flares to life, his great wings pounding the air as he strives to take control of their flight once again. Flattening herself against his velvety back in an effort to avoid those white wings, she can't stop her hair from being frantically tossed about by each heaving gust of wind. A passing fancy strikes, the image of little Florina dancing at the festivals, the ribbons in her hand fluttering around her body as she twirls and twirls.
Soon her pegasus is upright and his wings stretch perpendicular as he begins to 'gallop' through the sky, gliding effortlessly through the nothingness that surrounds them. She can't see anything, her vision completed obscured by the fog. All the same, she presses her knees against his flank, telling him to land. Ilia can be much the same way during the winter, nothing but the oppressive white of the snowstorms, and pegasi learn to find land regardless of the conditions...or die. But her pegasus is an adult, one of the sturdiest and most trustworthy ever trained.
Once, the same could be said for her.
With a swooping dive, the pegasus' hooves sink into wet earth. Fumbling, she falls out of her saddle, a first. She doesn't care, heaving as she runs her fingers through her sweat-soaked hair, unconsciously trying to recreate her mother's calming gesture. She tries to calm down, she really does, but all she can hear are her own heavy, shuddering breaths and the occasional snort from her pegasus.
There's no one here. I'm all alone. Everyone...everyone is...
She doesn't finish the thought. She can't. Instead, she lowers her head towards the ground she can barely see and begins vomiting.
No one liked the mission, but the wages were too much to cast away in favor of comfort.
On pegasi wings, the trip from Etruria to Valor took four days, including stops for rest and to renew supplies. The troop was unusually silent during the trip, each of the eleven women absorbed in their own thoughts. Fiora, never considered a chatty person, could only watch as her wing sunk into a dangerous despondency. The final straw had been a question on the worth of a mercenary's life, and if they were really helping Ilia in the end.
"How can you say that?" Fiora asked evenly. "One's life is worth the weight of their deeds. Even if we're mercenaries, our lives earn enough to feed our people. What more do you want for your life?" The thought of Farina, haughty as she exclaimed that she sharpened her skills for the sake of money more than their homeland's plight, flashed into Fiora's mind and the teal-haired woman frowned. That wasn't the full quote, Farina had wanted to be the one to earn the most for Ilia...and procure a small profit as well.
More. More. Everyone wants more. But...wasn't the pleasure of serving one's duty enough?
Soaring through the clear skies, Ilia's fifth wing of pegasus knights could see that what surrounded Valor was fog, full and completely hiding the island from their sharp sights. Fiora raised a hand, gesturing for the others to follow her. The formation shifted into what could be best described as a child's seagull, with the commander forming the head and the others into two wings arching back.
With a little pressure on her pegasus' flank, she began to guide everyone towards the soupy fog, unconsciously holding her breath as she disappeared into it. Immediately she wished she hadn't; inside the fog it felt as if the rest of the air in her lungs was rapidly stealing away. Goosebumps rose in a wave along her arms and legs, and if she were anything other than an Ilian she would've thought of the expression 'someone's walking on her grave'.
The soil was too frozen to till, not to talk of making a grave.
The thought caused her to shudder, and she wanted to look back and check up on the others behind her. Her heartbeat, dull and steady, thudded in her ears and blocked out the repetitive beat of pegasi wings. Proper protocol forced her to stare forward into the bleak grayness. Years of experience nagged at her that something was going to happen. Forcing herself to be perfectly calm, she urged herself to focus on the mission at hand. There should be land somewhere within the murkiness below them. They still needed to set up camp and rest before seeking out whatever the Black Fang was planning. After all, if she couldn't pierce the fog, neither could their enemies. That was nice, logical reasoning, the sort that earned her the position of commander. The danger was on the island, not in the sky.
Then she heard the lazy swish of a projectile slicing through the air, felt the cool rush of air harmlessly pass by her left cheek, and knew that logic did not reign on the dread isle.
"Climb up! Now!" she yelled. There were more swishing noises now, a noblewoman's skirts and petticoats smashing against each other with each hurried step. A scream rent the air. Fiora instinctively looked back, only to see a silhouette of some monstrous combination of woman and pegasus against the oppressive gray.
And a moment later there was nothing.
More arrows, more screams. "Climb up! Climb up!" she ordered, yanking back on her reins. Her pegasus understood, rearing up as perfectly as if he'd been on land before lunging upward, great wings cleanly scything through the fog as he began to gallop upwards. Even as they flew upwards towards escape from the pursuing arrows, she could still hear the buzzing of those wooden hornets and had to bludgeon every instinct she had to flinch. Her pegasus, taught to react to her every twitch, wouldn't have liked that.
The fog seemed to be folding upon them, never quite releasing them into the wide blue beyond. No matter how far, how fast they flew, there was always the terrible swishing approach of some furious head matron, arrows following them as persistently as a nanny after her charges. It didn't make sense in the same way Farina didn't make sense, because fog that can be flown into can surely be flown out of and all pegasus knights should be more than happy to put every bit of gold towards Ilia's families and why could those arrows still hum past her when they should be far higher than any ballista could reach--
"Commander! The fog won't let us go!" a young pegasus knight cried out somewhere in the oppressive gray that molded around them.
It won't let us go, Fiora repeated to herself in a vague, muffled way. The thought ricocheted through the practical and logical planes that made up her very organized mind, crashing through each one like bandits. It made no sense and yet
it did, because something had to be crammed until it fit with the circumstances as she saw them. The place was cursed, after all. It was more than a simple rock in the ocean; it was evil and it emitted its foul essence until even the boundless sky was poisoned. It was magic, and it agreed with those evil hearts that inhabited the island. They had flown right into the spider's web and it was in no way going to let them escape.
But they were mercenaries and they were warriors. They weren't trained to escape.
We're all going to die, the young commander thought faintly as an arrow shot past an ear, a whisper away from giving it its first piercing. But that is the fate of all pegasus knights. Reaching behind her, she felt the comforting steel of her javelin. I was not a good commander to lead them into this trap.
I will not be a worse one and leave them behind.
"Everyone!" she yelled, hoping against hope that there was anyone left to listen to this, her last order. "We will fight!"
A ragged cheer brought on by a few scattered others warmed her even as she coaxed her partner into making a lazy half-turn. He complied, wings no longer furiously beating the mottled sky like a butter churn but rather more gently, more gracefully. They hung there for a long moment, pegasus knight and pegasus, silently regarding the gray below them that the arrows still flung themselves out from like demons from a pit.
Then, they began to fall.
There was always something so wonderfully exhilarating about falling. Fiora, who was all about control and precautions, couldn't have been expected to like it.
She loved it.
Her heartbeat pounded out an impatient tattoo against her chest as the wind shredded through her composed and collected demeanor, leaving behind a wing-borne warrior who only narrowed her eyes at the storm of arrows flying up to meet her. The wind whipped her hair around like an invading army's banner as they dove towards certain oblivion, keeping her right arm and the spear it bore parallel to the noble creature's flank. Shifting her hips, she used her knees to guide her partner through the storm of projectiles, though he was doing very well on his own. As they neared the ground, the spaces between the arrows became tighter, and they couldn't help getting nicked by the iron tips in inconsequential places--the tip of a wing here, a bit off the elbow there.
She could feel her pegasus tense and she began to raise her weapon arm. The ground was quickly approaching, but the fog still concealed their enemies--there! A flicker of black to their left caught her eye, and automatically she began to turn in that direction. Her pegasus followed instantly, his aerodynamic body allowing the turn with only the slightest lean against wind resistance. The archer was fully visible now, and Fiora felt a rise of disgust as the assassin notched an arrow and began to level it between her pegasus' eyes.
That might have worked, had she any other weapon but a javelin.
Rising from her saddle, she hefted the weighty weapon with her good arm and threw it. It flew a short distance before plunging into the archer's chest. Before the Black Fang could fall, they flew past him and Fiora wrenched the javelin out, waving it once to remove the blood before sticking it back into its specially-made holster. Without any break in their flight pattern, they began to climb upward once again. Screams arose behind them, and the glimpse she caught before the fog swallowed up the image horrified her.
Everyone's dying, she thought dimly, the image of wings sticking out just along the coastline in the middle of a spill of red frozen into her mind.
An arrow cleanly went through her reins, causing her to lose her hold on a diagonally-inclined pegasus. On pure instinct she squeezed her legs in order to prevent herself from completely falling out of her saddle as she fought her way back to an upright position. This upset her partner's balance, and he whinnied in panic as they began to tilt one way, then another, in a desperate fight to regain equilibrium. With an inhuman strength, she rocked forward and flung her upper body onto the steed, her fingers grasping onto the edge of the saddle. Another whinny, and the pegasus was finally able to right himself in the sky.
Adrenaline draining away in favor of relief, Fiora fought to control her breathy gasps. She was a first class, first division pegasus knight. She wouldn't falter now. There was still a mission to complete!
Glancing around as she reached to make sure her javelin was properly secured, she saw the projectile as it sped towards her heart. The arrow swished harmlessly over her as she flung herself onto her partner's back. Another arrow, this one seeking her pegasus' flank. She bucked, tapping her heels against his hindquarters to bade him to fly higher. No, now she wanted to go lower to avoid the arrow aimed at her head. No, turn left! Rise! Right!
With all those confusing commands, he flapped his wings at the wrong time. One clouted the side of her head, and the pain that blossomed was enough to make her body go limp for a moment.
A moment was enough to make her noble pegasus believe that she wanted to dive again, and he followed the command to his fullest.
Her body continues to shudder long after the dry heaves end. Rancid, ropey saliva fills her mouth; thick, gummy tears make it hard for her to see little more than blurs. Hunched over on hands and knees, she looks nothing like the responsible, competent commander she always knew she would be. The thought that she has fallen this far makes her spit in disdain at herself, but it doesn't change the fact that she is still alive.
She is the only one left. Her team, the fifth wing of Ilia's famous pegasus knights, has been annihilated.
She is the only one left. The Black Fang, the soulless beings they are, slew her comrades with an ease that belies words.
With a half-strangled cry, she wrenches herself away from both her thoughts as well as the site where she had been sick. Hands marred with dirt wipe at her eyes, leaving streaks of mud on her impeccable features. Kneeling now, she feels more human. Her pegasus, her friend, nudges at her with his nose and whinnies in concern.
It is a long way towards feeling like any other person, but she stands, leaning on her partner as he nuzzles at her neck. Feeling such uncomplicated love, unusual to her considering her sisters, she takes a deep breath.
I don't have time to despair.
Nodding to herself, she claps her hands together, dislodging much of the grime on her hands with a few sweeping claps. A forearm wipes across her mouth, leaving dry, pale lips in its wake. The taste is a discomfort, but she deals with it.
I must continue.
The weight of the javelin against her back is a comfort. After a cursory check to make sure it hasn't loosened, she turns to her partner, that sturdy, beautiful creature. Snow white, Ilian-white, he is the symbol for the dazzling harshness that is their homeland. She reaches out to embrace his velveteen neck, snuggling against him like the little girl she never was. He nickers pleasantly, and when she moves away he snorts. "I know," she tells him because she really does. "But first, we have a mission to complete."
Mounting the pegasus is easy, but the first rush of dizziness that sweeps through her and tumbles about in her stomach as they take off nearly overwhelm her. It goes away, though the fear of humming arrows splintering the fog is imprinted on her psyche. Even so, she holds on.
My comrades, my trusted soldiers...let my lance bear the weight of our judgment!
Every time a pegasus knight falls, a hundred Ilians die. Fiora believes this with all her heart, and that is why she gets up again.
Out of all the characters in FE7, I respect Fiora the most. There's a spark about her and her story that makes me more sympathetic to her than, say, Harken (and I like Harken). Hopefully, this conveys just how inspiring I find her.