The Makeshift Family
A/N: Bit of a funny story about this one, I was desperately trying to get the latest chapter out as soon as possible, but, as usual, I underestimated just how big it's was gonna be. So on Friday last week, after realising it would be at least another week or so before I got something out, I decided to put something smaller together.
Spent half my weekend and most of my nights on this! It's smaller than some of my chapters, and it might be a little less polished but I think it's a good story. Hopefully should tide you over till the real chapter comes out!
It's a little more serious than I know some like though, so I do apologise for that, but I hope you enjoy it regardless.
"Okay! Okay! How do I look, how do I look!?" Cynthia giggled, squirming excitedly on her mother's lap.
"Beautiful!" Sumia gushed happily, tugging one of the ribbons a little tighter, "Just like a little Princess."
"A Pega-Pony-Princess!" Cynthia corrected, too caught up in her excitement to notice her mother wince at that line.
"Yes, exactly." Sumia agreed a moment later, forcing the cheer to stay in her voice as she pushed away the sudden unhappy thoughts that phrase brought. Not quite ten years old, Cynthia was still too young to properly understand. "My little Pega-Pony-Princess."
That phrase was rarely heard around the Palace anymore, not for the last three years, not since her husband was kille- "Anyway!" She stopped herself before that train of thought got any further. "You make sure you're on your best behaviour with Severa today."
"We wiillll be!" Cynthia pouted, the effect lasting only a moment before she squealed in excitement again "Auntie Cordelia says she's gonna take us to Verons! We're gonna'…"
Chuckling to herself, Sumia only half listened as Cynthia relayed her plans for the umpteenth time, focussing instead of running her brush through the girl's long blue tresses once more. She was well aware of Cordelia's plan to take the two girls shopping as a celebration of Cynthia's upcoming birthday. She could only hope her friend would be able to reign in the two girls before her youngest drained the royal coffers dry!
That got her attention again, "Yes dear?"
"How come you never help Lucy? Why don't we make her all pretty as well?"
Even knowing Cynthia didn't mean anything by them, the words stung deeply. Sumia did everything she could for her eldest daughter. Unfortunately, the help Lucina needed was far more complicated than a brush through her hair and a few new dresses.
"You know Lucy isn't interested in this kind of thing, she takes after her father like that. Anyway, she's already very pretty."
"Prettier than me?"
"Completely different than you." She teased, "I'm lucky enough to have the two most beautiful daughters in the world!"
"So then, I take after you right?" Cynthia squirmed in her lap again, turning to face her, a bright smile on the young girls face, "'Cause! I love Pegasii and Lucy can't ride them at all!"
"Cynthia." Sumia warned, her tone becoming stern. Even if she was spoiling her daughter a little with her birthday in two days, she wouldn't allow her to insult her sister.
"Ah! Sorry!" Dropping her eyes, Cynthia looked instantly abashed. Sumia didn't follow it up, she knew the girls loved each other dearly, despite their differences, "I just, I mean, I'm like you right? You're the best Pegasus Knight in the whole world, and, and you're really pretty too!"
"Maybe," Sumia teased with a laugh, "Or maybe you take after your Auntie Maribelle? She was always more interested in fashion and dresses when we were growing up."
"You didn't like them?"
"Oh, I did, when I got the chance. But most of the time it just wasn't practical. With everything going on, I never really had much time for dresses and dolls. We were at war then, with Plegia and then with Valm, so I was only focussed on being a Pegasus Knight."
Stroking the girl's hair once more she smiled faintly, her old memories weren't entirely unpleasant, "It'll be different for you though. You won't have to worry about anything like that."
"But- We're still at war with Plegia aren't we?"
Apparently Cynthia hadn't been paying attention to her history lessons.
"We are at war with them again, yes. But that'll be taken care of long before you have to worry about it." Squeezing her daughter gently as memories of her dead husband forced themselves through Sumia drew from his strength, "We're fighting with everything we have to make sure you grow up in a peaceful world."
"I'm gonna be a Pegasus Knight too though! Just like you!"
"Well then, you'll be very helpful in making sure the world stays peaceful won't you?"
Already lost in thoughts of protecting people from bad guys, Cynthia's attention lasted all of two seconds before she swivelled around, staring straight at the ornate Spearhead sitting prominently on her dresser, an early birthday gift.
"I need a Spear to be a real Pegasus Knight though! We're gonna do that this weekend right? Right!? You promised!"
"Of course we will love. I've already made the arrangements, you just make sure you know what kind of wood you want for the haft and we'll get it all made this weekend. You said you've decided already right?"
Wincing at her ringing eardrums, Sumia sighed. Even as her mother, it was difficult dealing with Cynthia's lack of volume control at times. Still, it was difficult to be mad at the girl as she bounced joyfully around the room.
"It's gonna be SO GREAT! I've got THE PERFECT TR-Whoaaa! Ooof…"
"Cynthia, are you alright!? You tripped?"
Yawning with extreme satisfaction as she wended her way down the hall to breakfast, Cynthia could scarcely contain her good mood. Ignoring a bruise on her knee (that was already healing) from jumping off her bed in happiness she struggled to contain the urge to skip the rest of the way down the stairs (instinctively knowing that she'd end up with another painful bruise.)
Her pre-Birthday shopping with Severa had been great, beyond great! They'd managed to drag Severa's mum to at least ten different boutiques before the she'd finally had enough and ordered them home… But even then they'd managed to goad her into buying them sweets on the way back.
And even better than that! Her birthday itself had been fantastic, her mother had spent hours making her as pretty as possible and between her childhood friends, her sister, the maids and the chefs, she'd been the centre of everyone's attention. It was the most fun she'd had in a long time! She'd even been allowed to ride Titania, her mother's Pegasus! Trained especially for combat, it was only on very special occasions that she was allowed to ride her. She'd flown a War Pegasus! A veteran of countless battles! Just like as if she was a real Pegasus Knight!
Best of all though! Best of all! Today was Friday! That meant tomorrow when her mother got a break from her duties as Queen, they were going to go out and make her spear! Her very first spear! Then she really would be a real Pegasus Knight!
"That's impossible! I, no, I can't believe it!"
Pausing in place as she passed the great hall Cynthia was surprised to hear her mother's voice ringing out to the hall, sure she'd slept in a little, but still! It was very unusual for the hall to be occupied this early.
"It's true. I swear it on my life my Queen."
"No one doubts your words sir. T-They are simply difficult to hear."
That wasn't necessarily that uncommon, Lucina received far more training in courtly manners and rites than she did, she'd often end up participating in their mother's meetings, listening when orders were given out or helping with the more minor roles.
It sounded serious, and it was far too early for the usual petitioners to be entertained.
But then… If Lucina was in attendance then it wasn't a state secret, or at least it hadn't been declared one yet. So, as another member of the royal family, she was well within rights to attend as well.
Sneaking around the side, Cynthia carefully pushed her way in through one of the side doors. She may be allowed to listen in (technically), but she still made pains not to interrupt, she didn't want to make enough noise to get noticed.
"The southern Risen force destroyed Yensil's rest?" Sumia repeated, her voice clearly strained even as she managed to hold onto her royal composure, "But how? The fifth company were to ambush them at the Senthil river crossing? What happened!?"
"Th-The fifth company your highness…" The messenger paused, clearly struggling for the right words. It was only now that Cynthia noticed how haggard he looked, "We, we are no more."
"I, I don't know exactly what happened… There was a second group we missed. We were trapped between both armies at the crossing, they came a- It was a slau-, that is to say… Naga."
The man stopped again, staring hard at the ground, no one commented as he attempted to pull himself together, "I was, they… My commander sent me back here to warn everyone."
"Naga save us… Two Risen forces." The horror in her mother's voice chilled Cynthia to her core. Even her mother, the greatest Pegasus Knight in the world dreaded the Risen.
Not that she blamed her, Cynthia tried very hard not to think of them. Risen were something that had appeared only a few years ago, not long after her father had been… After her Dad had… They had appeared a few years ago.
She actually didn't really know much about them, no-one talked about them at all. Still, the little she had gleaned was more than enough to know she wanted nothing to do with them! They sounded monstrous, hideous, absolutely terrifying! She'd had more than a few nightmares from the tales she'd heard from the returning soldiers.
"They must mean to attack Vigil's Watch." Sumia concluded, "Naga! The seventh company is there, they're a reserve force, they can't hold off an army this big!"
"We must help them!" Lucina declared, steadfast as ever, "If they were to take that outpost, the entire southern ranges would be at risk."
"Lucina," their mother chided gently, "If they take it, thousands of people will be killed."
That was the priority. Ever since their earliest memories they'd been taught that, they fought to protect their people, to shield their Halidom. Strategic objectives were vital, but the goal must always be kept in mind, their purpose was always to save as many lives as possible.
"We will stop them." Sumia affirmed, spinning and addressing her ever-present retainer, "Ormond! Summon the council for a critical meeting! I will be taking my personal guards and all the Shepherds within the city. We will reinforce the seventh company until the second company can relieve us."
'The second company!' Cynthia gasped, The Pegasus Knight assault force!'
Reformed by Wing Commander Cordelia under the direction of Grandmaster Robin in the years following the Plegian war, time and again the Pegasus Knights had been the source of Ylissean victories, and none of their order was more revered than the assault force! Their courageous charges, their hit and run tactics! To wear their crest was to be welcome with open arms anywhere in Ylisse! Cynthia idolised them like no other.
'But they're at the Feroxian Border.' Even if she barely knew anything about the war, Cynthia was always tracking the movements of the heroic Pegasus Knights. She knew where all their companies were at any time, 'That's days away! At least a week of flight!'
Lucina spoke up before Cynthia had a chance to object. She didn't want her mother fighting for that long in such a dangerous battle! That was terrifying!
"Lucina, don't worry. I'll be ba-"
"I'm coming too!"
Cynthia's heart stopped. H-Her sister? Lucy? On the front lines? Three years her senior, Lucina was thirteen, only a few years younger than some of the soldiers already being drafted. A tiny voice inside her told her she'd always known this would happen. It was always going to happen… But, no! She didn't even want to imagine it!
"What!? NO! No you are not."
"I can help! I need to help! I cannot just continue to do nothing!"
"Lucina, you're not doing nothing! All you need to worry about is protecting your sister and leading your people. You should be thinking about maintaining peace. Gods, Lucina, honey, this is not your war. I never want you anywhere near those creatures."
"Mother! I need to! You'll need the help… And, and." Lucina's voice trailed off to barely a whisper, "… Just staying at home training while everyone else fights? How can I avenge Father like this?"
"Aveng-Lucina! He would be horrified to hear you say that!"
"No! No. Lucina, darling, look at me." Stepping forward, Sumia cupped her eldest daughter's face with her hands "What happened to your father, it was terrible, I… I can't even say. But all he ever wanted for you was to live happily, to live in a peaceful world. That's what I've been fighting for ever since. That's what I fight for now."
"You're far too young to get caught up in this. Believe in me Lucina, I promise, I'll build the future your father wanted for you."
Watching her sister sobbing was a strange experience, Cynthia didn't think she'd ever seen Lucina like that. Lucy had always been her strong, protective, older sister. Seeing her so vulnerable, especially with the thought of their Mother heading into danger and all that was said about her father- It was all too much.
With far too many emotions swirling through her at the same time, and no idea what to think, Cynthia slipped away. Any hunger long forgotten as she returned to her room.
"So, you're really leaving?"
"I am," her mother's voice was soothing, sitting in her lap as Sumia brushed her hair, Cynthia's heart felt a little lighter, even as the unsettling news was confirmed. "I'll be busy organising everything today and tomorrow, we'll march on Sunday."
"I'll only be gone a few weeks at most." She offered when Cynthia didn't respond, "I'll be back before you know it."
"Are you going to save everyone?"
"It won't just be me, I'll have the Shepherds with me too," or at least, as many as were available at such short notice, "Don't worry. We'll drive them back, we'll protect this land."
Biting her lip, Cynthia still couldn't find the right words. Driving them back? Protecting the land? She knew, as a Princess, that should be her main concern, but somehow those concerns paled beside the fear she felt for her Mother heading out to face such terrifying monsters.
But her mother was a Pegasus Knight! The greatest, most beautiful Pegasus Knight! This was normal for her wasn't it? She shouldn't be afraid for her.
"B-But, weren't we gonna make my spear this weekend?" It was the only thing that came to mind, "You promised!"
Chuckling lightly, Sumia didn't seem to mind being called out "You're right. I did. Well, that just means we'll need to move quickly and have it made on Saturday doesn't it? You did say you've already got the wood picked out right?"
It was with an uneasy heart that Cynthia found herself sitting beneath a large hickory tree early the next morning. It was a familiar tree, the same one she'd discovered weeks ago running around at top speed looking for the perfect wood for her haft the instant her mother had mentioned helping create a spear for her.
Her job was simple, all she had to do was mark directions to the tree along the woods, then mark the tree itself. Her mother would inform the Palace staff, who would liaise with the lumber-yard and within a few hours Cynthia would have the perfect material for her spear.
And yet, finally on the cusp of the moment, she couldn't bring herself to stand and draw out the knife she'd been given.
It was as if doing so was a mark of finality.
Her mother had promised to make the spear with her. As soon as Cynthia marked that tree the spear would begin being made. Everything would be set into motion and before she'd know it her mother would be flying off into battle once more.
Even as the Queen, it wasn't exactly rare for Sumia to be leading the Ylissean-Alliance forces herself. It had happened countless times throughout Cynthia's life. Even within the last year she'd fought in three skirmishes along the Ylissean border.
'I hate it.'
She should be used to it, she knew she should, but how could she be!? The older she got, the more she understood, the more scared she got! And it wasn't as if her fears were unfounded, Kjelle's mother hadn't returned from her last mission less than six months ago! It didn't even need to be said she'd already lost her father, even if she couldn't remember him as clearly as Lucy could, she would never forget his warmth or the way he used to hold her.
'They need her.'
It was unfair!
The Halidom, the people, they needed her mother. So, she would go, again. She would be in danger, again. Cynthia would be miserable waiting for her to return, again.
She'd never seen Lucina argue with their mother like that, not ever. The forcefulness of it still scared her now, despite her mother's words there would be no doubt that Lucina would be joining her on the front lines. The only question was when.
'Mother, Lucy… Father.'
Her whole family lived on the battlefield.
Soon she'd be all alone.
'I don't want this!'
She wanted her father to call her his "Pega-Pony-Princess" again. She wanted Lucy to play with her again. She wanted her mother to not leave her. She wanted to have her family again!
But her father was dead.
Lucy only cared about training and fighting.
Her mother was about to leave and go to battle once more.
And there was nothing she could do about it… Was there?
"Cynthia! Here you are!"
"Oh, hey, sorry Mum."
"Gods! What happened to you? I was expecting you back hours ago! I was about ready to go looking for you."
"Ah, well," ducking her head guiltily, Cynthia kicked the dirt, not meeting her mother's eyes, "I, uh, I couldn't find it- the tree."
"The tree? You've been looking all this time?"
"Huh, but- Didn't you say you had it all picked out? You've hardly talked about anything else!"
"I DID! I just, I forgot where it was."
Chuckling, half with bemusement and half with relief, Sumia pulled her daughter to her, wrapping a kindly arm around her shoulder as she directed her back inside.
"Oh well. I'm sure you'll be able to find it again."
"I will, for sure. I'll find it tomorrow, definitely!"
By now it was late afternoon, far too late to organise the tree to be felled. There was no way the spear could be hafted today.
"Great. Then, we'll make it as soon as I come home. It can be the first thing we do!"
Digging her heels in and leaping away, Cynthia stopped dead, turning to her mother in shock.
"When you come back? No! You said we were going to do it this weekend!"
"I-I'm sorry Cynthia, I can't. I'm leaving at daybreak, there's no time."
"You said it we'd do it this weekend!"
Cynthia batted angrily at the tears springing in her eyes. Tears which had little to do with waiting a little longer for her spear.
"I, honey, I'm sorry. I can't do it this weekend. I didn't mean to break my promise, please, don't cry."
Jumping backwards from her mother's outstretched hand, Cynthia glared back, fuelled only a young girl's fear of losing her parent there was little heat behind it.
"We'll do it as soon as I return. Me and you, we'll make you the perfect spear. Okay?"
Choking back all the things she knew she couldn't say, Cynthia didn't reply.
"As soon as I'm back, alright?"
Unable to glare at her mother through her watery eyes for a moment longer, Cynthia dropped her gaze, giving up.
This time she didn't flinch away when Sumia reached an arm out, instead she gripped the offered hand with all her strength, not letting go the entire way back home,
It was almost midnight before Cynthia finally gave in.
The entire day had been spent in an uneasy limbo, drifting through the motions, detached from the world as she tried to separate herself from her thoughts. Her mother had left that morning flanked by most of the Palace guard and as many of the Shepherds as could be arranged at short notice.
Carefully shutting her door behind her as she slipped out of her room and silently padded down the palace hall she felt weak, she knew she shouldn't be doing this, she should be stronger.
First both her parents together, then just her mother, throughout her life they'd left for the front lines countless times… And each time they did her reaction was the same, the actions of a young child too scared to be alone.
Even so, there wasn't a single moment of hesitation when she arrived at her destination, opening the door with practiced ease and slipping inside.
She shouldn't be here, she knew that. She was meant to be Pegasus Knight! She would have her own spear soon, then her training would start for real. She would be a valiant defender of her homeland!
Still, even that thought didn't stop her as she pulled back the covers and slipped into the bed, sliding over to where Lucina was propped on her elbow, smiling gently at her.
A moment later her sisters arms were wrapped loosely around her, pulling them together. Sighing as she snuggled in closer, Cynthia could feel her fears and worries alleviated slightly.
That Lucina would still be awake or that her door would be unlocked was never in question.
Neither spoke. Both girls were asleep soon after.
"You're gonna make Lady Anheld angry."
Lucina didn't respond, stepping to the training dummy again she brought her practice sword up with all the strength she could muster.
"Mum said you're not allowed to skip your lessons."
The blow connected at an awkward angle, sending Lucina off balance, her oversized sword thudding into the ground as she growled in frustration.
If Cynthia hadn't seen it happen a thousand times she might have thought it was a funny sight. Lucina was stubborn. The palace staff had specifically created a smaller training dummy for the teenager, they had specifically made a practice sword a smaller girl could use. Humbled, Lucina had thanked them repeatedly… And then quietly refused to use either.
It was difficult to watch sometimes, but even though she herself diligently practiced with a child sized spear and a smaller training dummy, Cynthia could never decide if her sister was foolish or not. She knew Lucina couldn't wait to get bigger, to get stronger. Her sister was desperate to protect the Halidom, she believed she needed to get out to the frontlines and when she did, her opponents would not be smaller, nor would her weapons be lighter.
Cynthia didn't like thinking about that at all, so she didn't watch her sisters training often.
Still, Lucina was a lot stronger than her lithe form suggested and she trained harder than anyone. Her form was almost perfect, even with the standard adult sized equipment.
Almost perfect. Cynthia winced as the blade struck low once more, clipping the reinforced armour around the dummy's thigh, shooting downwards at a sharp angle and sending Lucina stumbling back, the painful reverberations almost wrenching the sword from her hands.
Barely taking a moment to shake the pain out of her hands Lucina took up her stance once more, lunging forward and slamming her blade against the targets wooden shield, feigning high then striking at the mid-guard, this time Lucina's blade cut crisply through the air, slamming beautifully right at the armour joint between the thigh and stomach.
"That's three." Cynthia whistled, both girls watching as a deep fracture rent through the wood, the blade hanging together for a moment before separating in half, dropping limply to the ground.
It was a combination of Lucina's impressive strength and the damage caused to the swords from striking against awkward angles, most of the time it wasn't a problem, but whenever Lucina was unsettled or angry her form would slip and her power would raise. Sometimes she'd go through a small handful of swords over the course of a single session!
Their mother had left a week ago and Lucina had been here ever since. But then, as far as Cynthia could remember it had always been like this, ever since their father hadn't returned.
It had already been decided that Lucina would be crowned Exalt upon coming of age, the people of Ylisse trusted the Brand their mother had said. No-one seemed happy about it, but the advisors had assured them all it was the will of the people. So Lucina was given endless lessons and teachings, everything she needed to know to lead the Halidom. It seemed exhausting to Cynthia, but Lucina never shirked her duties, diligently attending the classes, even if she wasn't the best student she always tried to absorb as much knowledge as she could.
Except when their mother was away.
Like clockwork, as soon as their mother left Lucina would scarcely leave the training field. Morning to dusk she was there, wailing on training dummies, practicing sword forms, sparring against anyone willing to bear arms against her.
The next sword didn't even last five minutes. It wasn't new to begin with and a badly off balance lunge sending it crashing into the base of the dummy didn't help anything.
"Why not just use Falchion?"
Stepping past Cynthia back to where a small pile of wooden swords had been prepared, Lucina spared only a single glance towards where the legendary sword was place reverently on the side of the training field.
After their father, there had been no-one left to use the blade.
It had been passed to Lucina the same day the terrible news had shaken the Halidom, she had been tested later that same day. When the sword had remained dull in the young girl's shaking hands, heedless of the brand shining bright in her eye or any of the sobbing pleas sent towards it, no-one had been sure what to do.
Lissa wasn't recognised by it, neither was Owain. Cynthia had been too young at the time and there had never been any impetus to test her since.
Instead it had simply remained under Lucina's care, never leaving her side. A precious memento of the father she loved desperately and an ever present reminder of her failure to live up to his legacy.
Still though, Cynthia had always thought it would have made the perfect training sword, especially when Lucina had gained a propensity towards breaking the standard training swords. Unfortunately her sister wouldn't even consider it! Sighing she decided to give up, she'd already delivered her message, Lucina wouldn't be leaving anytime soon.
"Fine. I'll tell her you're not coming."
After speaking to Lucina's disappointed tutor Cynthia had spent the next few hours sitting disinterestedly through her own lessons. They were boring and didn't involve anything about Pegasus Knights, but she only had a handful compared to her sister and she knew they were important to her mother so she put up with it.
"Not like there's anything else to do." She pouted internally, making her way through the southern palace garden a few hours later.
Lucina was the worst but it wasn't as if her other friends were much better, Severa was sulky whenever her parents were away, Owain was about as bad and Brady hadn't been the same since his father was a year ago. It was unsettling watching everyone she knew changing so drastically, so often, and having nothing she could do about it.
It was only then, trying to shake away her sombre thoughts that she finally looked up, noticing the strange shape flying lopsidedly through the air… Towards her?
'Huh? Is that-A Pegasus?'
There wasn't much else it could be, not at that size, it was far too big to be a Griffon and any Wyvern not named Minerva wouldn't get anywhere near the Palace.
Peering closer, the beast was coming into view faster now, she could clearly make it out. More importantly, it was heading right for her!
'T-That's, no, what? But-'
Staring slack jaw as the Pegasus charged towards her, Cynthia was watching an impossible sight.
Cynthia was practically raised beside the stables, always following her mother in anytime she got a chance to clean, feed, or exercise any of the Pegasii. She recognised Titania instantly.
"Huh!? B-But, what're you doing here!? Where's Mot-Uagh!"
Jumping from fight, she leapt back as the Pegasus landed heavily on the ground, collapsing gracelessly to the dirt right at her feet, its eyes never once leaving her.
Titania was a beautiful and proud Pegasus, she would never allow herself to land in such a sorry state! The sight of that alone would have been cause for alarm, combined with the cuts or scuffs along her flank and the animal's frenzied breathing, anyone could see something was drastically wrong.
"Why are you here!? Where's mother!?"
Terrified and panicking, Cynthia slid to the ground, terrible thoughts beginning to swirl.
"WHERE IS SHE!?"
Her mother would never leave her Pegasus behind, never! Titania was one of her oldest and most trusted companions! They'd been through three wars and countless battles together, Cynthia as a child had been introduced to the steed no differently than she had any of Sumia's other friends.
"DID YOU LEAVE HER!?"
"WHAT'S GOING ON!?"
All she received was a soft whinny, a pitiful, moaning sound.
"WHERE IS SHE!?"
Losing whatever control she'd maintained, the youngest Princess's screaming continued long from there, eventually attracting the notice of the rest of the Palace staff, gardeners, chef's, maids and the guards all hurrying to the site of the Royal Child's distress and carefully attempting to remove the bawling girl.
It was a difficult display to watch.
A child screaming in distress, clutching the steed for all her life, as if it could grant her the answers she wanted.
A wounded and exhausted animal, attempting to, in whatever way it could, lay its head over the girl. To pull her under its wings, as if to in some way shield her from the pain its arrival signalled.
Pegasii were well known, especially in Ylisse, for being both much smarter and more expressive than other animals. Titania's return and apparent protectiveness of the young Princess told an impossibly clear story. A story none could bear to believe.
A heavy cloud set over the hearts of the Palace staff, one that quickly spread through all of Ylisstol.
It was locked.
She'd expected that, she'd known it would be.
She tried again just to be sure. The door stayed securely shut.
Her sister was the Exalt now.
Vigil's Watch had fallen before the reinforcements could arrive. The news had arrived later the same day, carried to the city by a steady stream of wounded stragglers, men and women fleeing the sacked outpost, survivors who had arrived desperate and grieving to a city in the same state. The procession had been a sombre one, they returned to their capital walking through the flags of Ylisstol already at half-mast.
They spoke of the Queen's Heroism, of her valour and bravery. Already a hundred tales were circling of how she and her company had held the gate, how they had harried the Risen to ensure the safe retreat of as many as could be saved when the gate had fallen, of how she had lead a final charge into the bulk of the enemy. Slaughtering countless Risen, scattering their formation and ensuring the safety of the surviving Ylisseans.
Cynthia hadn't listened to any of it. Screaming and crying she'd declared it impossible, that it was a lie. Her mother had promised she'd return! She'd promised to come back!
Severa's mother had returned! Brady's parents were fine, so were Gerome's, Owain's, Inigo's, everyone's! She'd seen them all, they'd all come to talk to her, they had all apologised. Hugging her, crying and trying to find words of comfort for an inconsolable child.
She couldn't remember a single thing they'd said, the day had been a blur ever since Titania had arrived. She knew she'd run away at some point, she'd left Lucina to deal with the well wishers, running to her parent's room and crawling into her mother's bed as if that would bring some fraction of the beloved woman back.
'Why? Why… Only… Mother…'
Choking back another fresh set of tears, Cynthia reached up to try the door one last time, as if her desperation and pain would change reality.
It remained locked.
She had known it would be.
Her sister was the Exalt now.
The stunned girl had been crowned only hours earlier, shaking like a leaf through a brief coronation, Lucina's own tears were held back only by the knowledge that an Exalt had to be strong, that she couldn't cry in public.
She could hear Lucy crying now though, the girl's wrenching sobs carried through the door.
Even so the entrance remained locked.
Lucina was the Exalt. The Exalt had to lead the Halidom, she had to be dependable, someone everyone could rely on. She could never show weakness. She could never let herself be weak.
Cynthia knew all that, her tutors had taught her exactly the same and she knew Lucina's tutors were much stricter.
She knew all that.
She still tried the door again.
It remained locked.
Cynthia didn't know how long she spent slumped against Lucina's door, nor how many times she broke down, her own sobs echoing back through the wood and joining her sisters.
However, even as numb as she felt, she knew she couldn't stay there for the rest of the night. With the beginnings of winter already encroaching on the palace the cold stone floor and wide, draughty hallways were practically freezing.
She couldn't return to her room though.
She wasn't as strong as Lucina. She couldn't just curl up in her bed and be alone.
So, at some point, dizzy with grief and fatigue she found herself pushing up off the icy stone floor and walking with shaking steps out of the Palace. She didn't have a plan in mind, nor did she even consciously know where she was going until she pushed open the door to the royal stables.
Titania was still awake when Cynthia slipped inside, the Pegasus's fretful, distraught expression all but mirroring the girls own.
Cynthia couldn't form any words, but thankfully none seemed to be needed, instead Titania was at her side in a moment, gently herding her to a quiet corner and wrapping a wing around her as Cynthia collapsed to the ground.
The night passed slowly, Cynthia cried as much as she slept. Somehow though, wrapped warmly under the wing of her mother's trusted companion, Cynthia felt a little of the freezing numbness gripping at her thaw away.
'Titania loves you Cynthia. She adores you and Lucy.' Her mother's gentle words echoed distantly in her memory, somewhere between awake and asleep. 'She's very protective, she's looked after me for many years! She'd do the same for you.'
Blinking herself awake, it was barely dawn when the rhythmic sound of wood striking wood echoed around the palace grounds.
Still half asleep, nuzzling against Titania's warm body, it wasn't until she heard the tell-tale crack of a destroyed training sword (followed with the accompanying cry from painfully jarred hands) that she pushed herself to her feet; Crawling out from under the wing and whispering a soft thank you to the sleeping Pegasus before slipping out the pen.
Rubbing her eyes as she adjusted to the weak dawn light it didn't take Cynthia more than a few moments to track down the source of the commotion.
Wide eyed, Cynthia almost had to double check, the girl kneeling on the ground nursing a pained wrist looked absolutely nothing like her sister.
Her sister was a strong, confident, unflappable woman. She was one of the kindest, most loving people Cynthia knew, but it was rare for her to show even that openly. It was rare for her to show anything openly! Lucina always kept her emotions under strict control, she was the perfect Princess, now the perfect Exalt.
The girl ahead of her wasn't the sister she recognised, she was a scared, shaking, thirteen year old girl. A young child unable to make sense of a cruel world, biting her lip to fight back oncoming tears. Distantly some long forgotten part of her realised she'd seen this before, years ago.
So suddenly she began to doubt she'd seen anything, the girl Cynthia found disappeared. Drawing herself up, her shaking stopped, her unshed tears were quelled and once more Lucina, Cynthia's invincible sister returned.
"Are you alright Cynthia? What are you doing up so early? You need your rest, especially after… Everything that's happened."
"I-" Talking was difficult, she'd barely spoken a word since the day before, "What about you?"
"I shall be busy soon." Lucina explained and if Cynthia didn't know better she would have sworn she could see fear in her sister's eyes "There's much I need to do and no time to do it. This is the only time I shall have to train."
"A-Are, are you…" The words came slowly, dying on her tongue with hesitation.
She'd scarcely seen Lucina yesterday, when her mother's friends had come to offer their condolences, Cynthia had lasted only a few minutes before fleeing in tears. It had been Lucina that had received them. The next thing she'd known the maids had been pulling her from her mother's room, hurriedly dressing her for her sister's coronation.
"Are you okay?" She whispered finally, addressing herself as much as her sister.
Lucina didn't respond, perhaps there was no response she could make. Picking up a new sword she turned to the dummy once more, neither girl acknowledged her shaking hands as she attacked with more fervour than Cynthia had ever seen.
Leaping backwards with her hands around her wrist Lucina barely managed to stifle a cry of pain as the training sword splintered in her grip.
Having struck the reinforced shoulder guards at an awkward angle before being pulled around for a spinning slash the blade had never stood a chance, nicking the base of the thigh guard it had veered downwards, directly into the holding post and fracturing with a sickening crack.
Cynthia didn't say a word.
The sword had always been Lucina's domain, Cynthia could barely work her way around the beginner forms, but even with her limited knowledge she had never seen a form as badly as Lucina's today. Nor had she ever seen Lucina attacking the dummy with such force, bringing her entire body to bear with each strike, fighting as if the world rested on the tip of her blade.
The combination of the two was disastrous, for the health of both her sister and for the training swords.
"Arrgh!" Throwing the remains of the hilt down with a cry of anger, Lucina snarled, "Damn it! Godsdamn it!"
She'd never seen her sister lose control like this! Not ever!
"Godsdamnit!" She repeated, glaring at her shaking hands, "I-Is nothing enough!? Does nothing last? Why can I DO NOTHING!?"
Stomping over to the edge of the training grounds she picked up another blade.
Surprised, Cynthia realised this was the last one.
In the half hour she'd been watching, Lucina had already snapped seven swords. She wouldn't usually go through even half that in an entire session!
Lucina had never fought as poorly as she did today.
Lucina appeared to have come to the same conclusion. Gripping the sword so tight Cynthia could almost hear the wood cracking around her fingers she launched herself at the dummy, twisting in the air and crossing the distance in one leap, bringing the blade down between the target's shoulders with all her might!
The wooden sword didn't so much break as simply disintegrate under her sister's strength. Shattering instantly, both girls stared at the haft Lucina was left holding.
Cynthia with shocked awe.
Lucina with affronted fury.
"WHY!?" She screamed, finally losing the last semblance of control as she stalked to the edge of the grounds once more, tears of frustration streaming down her face as she stared at the only sword left to her. With the practice swords destroyed, there was only one thing Lucina could do if she wished to continue training. If she continued to seek some small solace from the exertion. Glaring down at it, Lucina hesitated. "What's wrong with me!?"
Cynthia couldn't respond.
"Why does everything break? Wh-Why can I not do anything!?"
Both girls knew she wasn't referring to the replaceable swords.
"Moth-…" Cynthia's voice trailed off to nothing, she didn't have the strength to say anymore. It was too painful to talk about.
Lucina didn't move, she didn't respond. Staring down at the final sword laying at her feet.
"Falchion." She whispered finally, picking up the legendary blade from where it had been cast heedlessly to the ground, snarling as she did so. "Ylisse's treasure. The only thing that can never break."
She stared at the sword for a moment before turning her eyes past it.
"Father died and you did nothing."
Stalking towards the training dummy once more, placed her hand upon the sheathe, flicking open the buckles binding the weapon.
"Uncle Robin died and you did nothing."
There was no reverence, no respect in her actions. The holy blade, unused for the last three years was whipped from its covering like a common bronze sword.
"Sir Frederick died and you did nothing."
The blade looked ridiculous in her hands, even more than the training swords, almost as tall as Lucina. She carried it as if it weighed nothing.
"MOTHER DIED AND YOU DID NOTHING!"
If Lucina was truly addressing Falchion then it seemed logical she would have stood holding the sword, instead she was already in motion, pivoting her heel and slamming Naga's tooth into the target's wooden shield.
"I CAN'T DO ANYTHING!"
Ricocheting off the shield, Lucina spun with the motion, driving the dull blade against the dummy's sternum.
"I WANT TO STOP IT!"
Flipping the blade in her hands Lucina arced with the motion, bending with the grace of a dancer as she tore the blunt edge into the thick wooden neck of her opponent.
As young as Emmeryn, thrown into a war she barely understood, orphaned by a monstrous enemy, Lucina, older than the other children, had already lost more than any of them. More than any of them, she understood the stakes. The pain. The loss.
"I WANT TO SAVE THE WORLD!"
Spinning as the blade ricocheted off the target's neck Lucina brought in a tight circle, spreading her feet and lunging forwards as she ran on pure instinct, driving Falchion through the ground, forcing it up below the target's shield, right into the ribs, right into the heaviest of the armour reinforcement.
Gaping at where Lucina suddenly found herself holding the blade aloft, the legendary tooth of Naga blazed with a brilliant blue light.
The training dummy held together for a single moment before exploding into a cloud of shards, the sturdy wood and metal disintegrating before their eyes.
"Di-Did… Did it just?"
Cynthia's words trailed off as both girls turned from the obliterated target. Slowly, reverently Lucina brought her hand down, holding the blessed sword directly ahead of herself.
"I will save everyone. I will protect this world." She swore.
Her voice was barely a whisper, barely heard over the gentle hum of the divine sword as she raised her free hand, placing her thumb against the edge. A trickle of blood, a perfect cut right through Lucina's gloves appearing before her thumb even made contact.
Witnessing history in motion Cynthia couldn't possibly speak, her jaw was wide open as she saw her sister drop to her knees, placing Falchion reverently before her, the blue fire around the blade slowly dying down as Lucina's tears splattered onto the sword.
"F-Falchion… I, we, let's… Thank you."
Losing control Lucina sobbed uncontrollably, her head dropping as her body shook, horrific wrenching sobs echoed from the girl's very soul.
"Lucy! You- I, tha-"
"It's, it's alright Cynthia." Lucina gasped, choking back her sobs even as she collapsed to the ground, hugging Falchion tight against her, "I, I'm happy. These are, it's okay to cry when you're happy. Falchion has acc-accepted me."
That was all either of them could take.
Sobbing, screaming, crying to the heavens. Both girls quickly found themselves within each other's arms, tears streaming down each of their faces.
They were the Princesses of Ylisse, the dependable rocks that all turned to in troubled times. Their tears were celebrating Lucina's ascendance as Falchion's chosen, the true Exalt.
Lucina's grip around Cynthia's back had nothing to do with their murdered father.
Cynthia sobbing into Lucina's shoulder was unrelated to their dead mother.
The tight grip each held on the other was not due to fear of being alone.
They were crying out of joy.
It was several hours later before Cynthia found herself back in her room.
It was the first time she'd entered since her mother had left Ylisstol, normally she wouldn't come back until her mother was safely home again. Now, for the first time in her life, rather than a relief to be back she felt out of place.
The room, usually so familiar, seemed so alien. It was as if it belonged to a different person, a different girl. A cute, pretty, Princess of Ylisse.
Her cute little teddy bears adorned her bed.
Her beautiful dresses were hung pristinely in her wardrobe.
Her ribbons were carefully put away on the top of her dresser.
Her jewellery, the small amounts her mother had let her have, was sitting in her perfect jewellery box.
Walking around, looking at her room, stepping in it for the first time with the knowledge that her mother would never return, she felt a strange detachment.
Everything had changed, she couldn't go back to how she was! She didn't want to be who she had been! Ribbons? Makeup? Dresses?
Her father would never call her his Pega-Pony-Princess again.
Her mother would never hug her again.
What was the point in it all!? Looking pretty? Being pretty?
She had wanted to be a beautiful Princess. How many lives did beautiful Princesses save?
'I want to save the world!'
Her sister's words from earlier echoed harshly through her mind. The Risen were attacking cities, they were killing people, Plegia needed to be stopped! The world didn't need a Princess.
Standing in a room she didn't recognise, in a world that didn't make sense, all she could think about was her time playing Justice Cabal with Owain and Gerome. All her declarations, all her dreams.
More than anything right now, the world needed a Hero. She needed a Hero.
'I was only focussed on being a Pegasus Knight.'
Her mother's words echoed around her head, again and again.
Reaching down she plucked one of her teddies from the bed, Mr Snugglybon. A companion since before she could almost remember, a friend she'd shared countless stories with.
Slowly the detachment morphed into disdain.
'Father died and you did nothing.'
Sneering, Cynthia hurled the stuffed bear against the wall.
'Mother died and you did nothing!'
Snarling, Cynthia swept the rest of her toys from off her bed.
'I never had much time for dresses or dolls.'
Cynthia stalked around the room with all the might a ten year old held, pulling her dresses from their hangers, scattering her jewellery on the floor, smashing the mirror in her vanity.
'We were at war.'
Her ribbons were cast to the ground, the makeup kit she and Severa had secretly brought was thrown out the window… Within moments her entire room was destroyed.
'I was only focussed on being a Pegasus Knight.'
Slumping to the floor, her chest heaving equally from adrenaline and exertion, Cynthia gulped in unsteady breaths.
"I wanna… I wanna, save the world too!"
In all the destruction only one thing remained untouched, sitting reverently atop her nightstand, the Spear head her mother had crafted for her.
Steadying her breath and walking unsteadily though the destroyed room, Cynthia gently picked the spear head up. She couldn't use it of course, but it would serve as a reminder, of what she needed to be.
A quick glance out the window revealed it to still be only a few hours past dawn.
The world was in disarray.
The only thing that made sense was a truth she'd known since she was a child, a truth she'd waved off for years that was now staring her in the face.
"The world needs a hero."
Titania was already waiting when Cynthia pushed the doors to the stable open.
Even knowing the standard protocol she didn't bother hitching her to the post as she rummaged through the stables for the appropriate saddle and equipment. Titania didn't move, standing stoically behind her, attempting to offer the distraught girl whatever solidarity she could.
Finally when she was saddled, bridled, and ready, Cynthia turned to face her properly, taking the Pegasus's head in her hands as she lowered her own head to meet it.
"I'm going to fight."
Titania stomped her feet, snorting loudly. Her thoughts on Cynthia being in danger were clear.
"I'll avenge Mother, her and Father. I'll save the world."
The Pegasus calmed down at that.
"I need your help. I need you to be the sword at my side."
Leaning heavily against the hard concrete walls of the Pegasus Knights barracks Cordelia desperately tried to still her breathing.
It was hard, incredibly hard, not to think about her closest friend. About how the woman who had been almost a sister to her had sent her ahead to guard the retreat while taking charge of the remaining forces and driving them directly into a Risen force three times their size (… Just like all those years ago… An ugly voice whispered inside her soul.)
'Strong, strong. I need to be strong.'
Her closest friend, the girl she'd protected since childhood had been killed only a few days ago.
She herself had only arrived in Ylisstol the previous day.
But there was no time to waste and no resources to spare, she was the Wing Commander. With their current losses the latest batch of recruits was needed now more than ever, they needed to be whipped into shape and sent to help the beleaguered front lines as soon as possible.
That was her job.
Mourning her friend. Worrying for the two dear girls, her godchildren, was not.
Philia had lead the Pegasus Knights proudly even after Emmeryn, her personal charge, was assassinated. Right to her death in the war against Plegia she had been the perfect Pegasus Knight, the ideal Wing Commander, the mountain to which Cordelia aspired.
The time was past already, she was late and she knew it. A Wing Commander couldn't be tardy, a Wing Commander couldn't be weak, or sentimental. So, pushing away thoughts of dead loved ones, Cordelia drew in a deep breath and stepped out, stilling her emotions behind as strong a façade as she could bear.
Cordelia was strong. The perfect Pegasus Knight, the ideal Commander. Her legs never shook once as she strode confidently over to where the newest recruits were already waiting.
The analytical side of her brain noted that the trainees seemed even more nervous than normal, every one of them seemed to be looking around uncertainly. The reason seemed obvious so she ignored it.
"I'm sure by now you've already heard the news. I'll tell you right now, it's true. However it changes nothing, Ylisse stands strong! And with Ylisse stands the Pegasus Knights we a-"
Her words died in her throat as she came to the end of the line.
Alright. That explained the odd looks she was getting.
Right at the end of the line of recruits, glaring for all she was worth, was Cynthia. The youngest Princess, her best friends daughter.
"Yes, Wing Commander!"
The standard answer, given with her chest puffed out just the same as any other recruit would. Wing Commander or not, Cordelia found it surprisingly difficult to meet the girl's eyes. 'Not when her mother died for you.' A painful part of her mind provided. Cynthia's glare didn't lesson for a single moment, but it was impossible to miss the sight of her hands twisting anxiously around the reigns of Titania.
Cordelia recognised the Pegasus of course, any Knight worth her salt would, it was one of the most decorated mounts in the squadron, a pure combat Pegasus. To see so strong a beast so docile around the young girl brought a pause to Cordelia's thoughts.
Her mouth opened and closed, but nothing came out.
Cynthia was far too young to be a Pegasus Knight! She was at least three years younger than even the greenest recruit!
Her standard instinct to shoo the girl home, to tell her off, was dulled. She'd known Cynthia since the day she was born, she knew all about the girls dreams to be a Pegasus Knight.
She also knew the girl was an orphan as of yesterday.
That it was her that been unable to protect her Queen, a failure as a Wing Commander.
Cynthia was clearly too young to be a Pegasus Knight, but-
"Your armour's not fastened correctly. You, and you! Help her! When they're done, go run ten laps around the facility. Negligence is unacceptable, I expect you to remember that!"
"Yes Wing Commander!"
-If the girl could get some kind of solace from training with her idols, well, it wasn't as if the Halidom could complain about the royal family being better prepared for combat.
Five Years Later
Leaning confidently against the spear she'd jammed into the ground, Cynthia sighed impatiently. Her role was over but she didn't like the news she'd delivered, not one bit.
Running her hands through her shoot blue tresses, she resisted the urge to open her mouth. Everyone already knew what her opinion was, voicing it again would only cause problems, it shouldn't matter anyway, she trusted her sister. They all did.
"I don't like it. Why are they there?"
Scowling at the crosses marked on the map in front of her, Lucina's fingers tapped an impatient melody on Falchion's hilt, the sword having never leaving her side at least looked a lot better on her than it used to.
Taller now, with her mother's tiara upon her head and dressed head to toe in the image of the Hero King, Lucina had truly grown into every bit the Exalt Cynthia had always expected her to be. The years had been hard of course, they'd been incredibly painful for everyone, there wasn't a single person in this world who had an easy life.
Yet, somehow the pain seemed less so for Lucina, she bore her burdens easier than the rest. Lucina never broke down, never cried, never flinched, she was invincible, the strongest rock they'd ever seen, so they followed her. Everyone did. In following her it was easier to carry on.
"It is… Unfortunate," the man opposite her conceded, a gruff orderly man, the current General of Ylisse's standing army. Cynthia felt a little bad about not knowing his name, but he was the third in role so far this year. "But it changes nothing."
"We are striking out north, here." His fingers jabbed at the map, tracing a line over the western ridges, "Even if there is another force of Risen congregating to the west, there's no way they can catch us. We'll be beyond the pass long before them, if they try to chase we'll already be at the Three Rivers Pass."
That was the goal after all, having finished gathering resources in the south they were heading north to rendezvous with the rest of the army.
They never stayed together for long anymore, to be part of a congregation of humans was tantamount to suicide. Multiple attempts had been made to organise a single force against the Risen, all had been disastrous. Instead the army was split up all across Ylisse, fighting a hundred fronts at once, doing hit and run attacks or anything possible to destroy any Risen they found.
Victory was impossible. Survival was all they could hope for. And for that, the army congregated only at carefully chosen times and locations, and only long enough to distribute food, weapons or any other equipment they managed to scavenge.
"I'm not worried about us," Lucina's voice turned a degree colder than usual as she dragged her finger far further south than the General had pointed, "I'm worried about them."
"Linfelt-" The general coughed, looking uneasily at the name of the lakeside village.
There wasn't a settlement there anymore of course. Humans hadn't lived in villages for years.
Still, it was where a village had been, and where at least three groups of civilians were desperately catching enough fish to survive the next few months on the run. With so little life left in the world, Fish were about the only reliable food that could be found… And of course, almost all waterways were teeming with Risen. Civilians moved fast, and fished as much as they could, when they could.
"Exactly. If the scouting report is accurate, they will be directly in that path of these Risen."
Cynthia smirked. No need to say anything at all, Lucina would never let her down.
"As I said your Highness, it is unfortunate, but we must be prac-"
Lucina's fist slamming onto the table interrupted that train of thought.
"General! We cannot leave them, they'll be slaughtered!"
"We cannot save them either! There will be many Risen in the north, never mind the journey, we cannot split our forces!"
"I will not abandon these people to their fate!"
"Your grace, I know it is a difficult decision, but we don't have the resources to help them…"
"No." Lucina declared, drawing herself up to her full height, looking long past the general, "I cannot accept that. I must lead with the same strength as my father."
"I failed to save my country general. I will never fail to save my people. Not as long as I still draw breath."
"I understand." Drawing a pained breath, the man's fists clenched and unclenched. No-one in this world had lived an easy life. "But, we need the manpower north. That's a fact."
"We cannot help them. This is simply the terrible calculus of war."
"Calculus huh?" Laughing lightly, Lucina stepped back from the table, her mind clearly made up "Unfortunately, General, I was never much good at math."
"You are correct, we cannot afford to split our forces. Take the army and head north. I will take only my squad, we'll attack their vanguard. It'll slow them down enough for the civilians to escape."
"Your Excellency! That's, y-You can't just-!"
His objections didn't amount for much, he already had his orders. Stepping past him she made her way over to where Cynthia and the rest of their companions were waiting.
Lucina's squad, ostentatiously it was a small group of about thirty soldiers, random stragglers they had gathered from around the continent. People who had heard of the Exalt and wished to swear fealty to her, rather than the army as a whole. In reality the number changed constantly as people left or returned. The only true core were the children of the Shepherds.
"You have no objections I take it?"
"Of course not sis! These people are in danger, it's the perfect job for a Hero! DA DA DA DA DAAAA!"
"It's a dangerous task." Laurent was the wet blanket as usual, "I expect a higher than normal deserter rate."
"Pshh," Kjelle's snorted, "Anyone who leaves will head with the army anyway, so who cares?"
"We'll have to move fast then!" Cynthia blinked, it was a little surprising for Nah to jump in on these sort of discussions. Even as the child of a Shepherd, Nah was the only one they hadn't known since childhood, she'd tracked them down a few years ago after her caregivers had been killed and barely left Lucina's side since.
"YEAH!" Owain whooped, "Watch out vile creatures, for the blade of Owain comes for y-"
Severa quickly put a stop to Owain's ranting and so, with a thankful smile, Lucina lead them onwards.
Wiping her head, Cynthia sighed, leaning heavily into her mount,. Titania's gentle whine telling her the Pegasus was equally tired.
"Yeah, what a loooong day."
They'd been harrying the Risen force for the last few days. There had been a few close calls but they'd managed to almost completely stop the larger army, cutting down huge numbers of Risen as they did so.
Right now they were in the midst of their greatest victory in the entire journey south, having managed to separate one of the Risen vanguards, they'd trapped it against a ridge and were taking the opportunity to destroy an entire unit of Risen.
From her position in the air she could see the battle drawing to a close, thankfully without any serious injuries from her side. The Risen lines were collapsing, having finished her job flanking and destroying any of their spell casters, all Cynthia and their other flying members had to do was hold their position to prevent any stragglers.
Five of them guarding one hill? Effectively her job was over for the day.
"Not bad work if I do say so myself!" She hummed happily, "Oh man, our charge was soooo cool! Haha, very hero-HUAAH!?"
Yelping and suddenly gripping the saddle pommel, only Cynthia's lifetime of training kept her balanced as Titania suddenly tore through the air, covering the ground to the other side of the battlefield in moments.
"Wh-wha!" Leaning down and getting her balance, Cynthia didn't bother trying to reign her in, Titania wouldn't do this for no reason "What's wrong? What's going on? We're meant to be all the waaaaay back there, oh man, Lucy's gonna be mad."
Thankfully, even as the area she was meant to be guarding fell further and further away, it didn't take long for her to get an answer to her question, a few minutes later she saw a single Risen shambling down a small incline, not far from the main crux of the battle.
"It got missed in the fighting?" She wondered as Titania rocketed towards the target.
Risen were almost all mindless beasts, they would throw themselves at a target unthinkingly never caring if they lived or died. It wasn't entire unheard of, but to see one that still retained enough basic animal instinct to scramble away from a lost battle was rare.
"Trying to run away!?" Cynthia taunted, raising her spear as Titania swooped around ahead of the beast, cutting off its escape, "Nothing can outrun the power of justi-"
Her words trailed off weakly as she finally realised why her Pegasus had chased this specific Risen all this way.
No doubt her mount had caught its scent.
An unforgettable scent, one that a beast with senses as sharp as a Pegasus would notice even in the midst of a battle.
Even after being separated for five years.
The Risen itself was unrecognisable of course, all Risen looked the same, but the wrecked ruins of the armour wrapped haphazardly around it was unmistakable. It was the same armour that had been worn in Titania's saddle for almost a decade.
"Mother's armour." Cynthia's grip on the spear tightened. "A scavenger huh?"
Even rarer than a Risen with some basal instincts, it was an event that was never discussed, something they all knew about. Something they all dreaded finding. A Risen with the belongings of a loved one.
Some of the monsters retained enough instinct to scavenge useable armour, and anything else, from a corpse. That was the explanation. That was the only explanation.
Cynthia didn't doubt for a moment what she needed to do. Such a thing was rare but not unheard of. Perhaps as a consequence of their thousands of battles, the children of the Shepherds had brushed against similar encounters before, Severa had encountered one with her father's sword. Gerome fought one with his mother's necklace. Brady had returned to camp one day with what remained of his mother's staff.
The beast roared, shocking her out of her silent prayer as it lumbered towards her.
Her strike was perfect, flowing perfectly with her mount, her balance, her speed, her power, were all flawless. It was exactly the kind of thrust her mother would be proud of. The Risen was destroyed instantly.
Sliding from Titania, even as the Pegasus moved to land, Cynthia walked wordlessly towards the dissipating monster.
Tarnished and tainted, the armour was destroyed beyond repair.
The spear in its hands was similar, the wood rotten and the head cracked, it was worthless.
The Ring she picked carefully off the ground though, proudly bearing the crest of Ylisse and untainted even through the years, the ring was priceless.
Turning it over and over in her hands gently, Cynthia just looked at it silently. Not saying a word even as Titania walked slowly to her side, setting its head on her shoulder.
A bewildered voice snapped her from her thoughts some time later, looking up Cynthia blinked, turning as Lucina stalked angrily over to her.
"Here you are! Naga! I was worr-" sighing, Lucina sucked back her anger when she saw the look on her sister's face, "Gods, what are you even doing out here?"
Words didn't seem to come. Giving up, Cynthia instead turned her hand over, opening her palm, opening her palm.
"I, a- Oh."
Lucina didn't react, her face remained utterly blank. There was no doubt she recognised the ring though.
It never occurred to Cynthia to offer the ring to her sister. Lucina was strong, she was invincible, she didn't doubt or worry or cry, Cynthia knew she wouldn't be worried about something sentimental like that.
Lucina hesitated, seemingly gathering her strength before she finally answered, "T-Take good care of it."
Already stowing it carefully in her safest pocket Cynthia wasn't looking as Lucina spun around, turning her back to her.
So she never saw the flash of unbearable pain shooting through her sister as her breath tightened and, for a single moment, the façade broke.
It wasn't uncommon for Cynthia to sleep with the Pegasii, either in what passed for a stables in their movements or in whatever shelter they did manage to find.
Tents were in short supply and she'd become so close to Titania over the years that it was often more comfortable to sleep wrapped up under the Pegasus's wing than in whatever bedrolls they managed to scavenge.
Tonight of course, it wasn't even in question.
She didn't talk much when they returned to their makeshift camp, nor at all through dinner. Lucina had quietly explained things and no questions had been asked.
It had been a long, exhausting day, but she still didn't feel anywhere near sleep even long after the night fell.
That's why she was wide awake, peering curiously out from under the wing, when she heard the soft sound of someone making their way towards her.
"L-Lucy?" She whispered in surprise, clearly seeing her sister's form as she drew close.
Her sister shouldn't be here, she knew that! She was their Exalt, their Leader! Their invincible, unflappable, unbreakable rock! Something like this wouldn't phase her! …Would it?
Lucina didn't say a word, simply bending down under the wing and sliding in alongside her, smiling shakily.
A moment later Cynthia found her sisters armed wrapped loosely around her, pulling them together. Sighing as she instinctively snuggled in closer, Cynthia smiled nostalgically as she felt a fraction warmer.
Neither spoke, both girls were asleep soon after.
A/N: So a fuller explanation than above:
First off, for anyone worried, don't worry the next chapter will be a lot more light hearted (Although I will say this was more bittersweet than anything else).
Secondly, as I said above, I was writing a completely different chapter for this. It's almost done but I still have quite a bit left to do, enough that I think it'll be a few weeks before it's done. You should expect it relatively soon, shorter than my usual release times I guess?
I was actually out of the country for 2 weeks travelling on business, you know what I did overseas? I WROTE MY STORY! Gahahaa, I was so worried that 2 weeks without writing would make my usual slow releases even worse! Hah, it was only in my downtime of course, but that's just to show, I do release slow but I care! I spent part of my trip sitting in my room writing things I think you'll enjoy, I hope you appreciate it when it does come out!
In regards to this one, mostly it's a chance to explore the children growing up in a ruined world, especially through their lens as their world falls further and further apart.
The idea is that their family is still pulling together, as best they're able. I wanted to really explore the Lucina, Cynthia dynamic and also if possible, show the bond between the Pegasus Sumia left behind. I really like the image of it being this pseudo-Guardian of the two girls, trying to do what it can to protect them after the loss of their mother.
It's probably the most serious portrayal of Cynthia you'll ever see, but realistically I think I kept her personality as intact as possible. I couldn't exactly have her jumping up and down talking about heroism in half these scenes! So hope that's not a problem.
I also wanted to show that the characters aren't omniscient. Even as her sister, Cynthia doesn't fully get Lucina, not always.
The children rely on her, they need her to be strong, that's the burden she has to bear and one I very specifically only partially resolved here (Because, it's far more fun when the characters aren't perfect! Plus, I'm sure we all know who I see as the person who eases that burden from her hahah!)
Anyhow, hope you enjoyed it.
Look forward to more soon!